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The Pyramid Builders of Ancient Egypt 

By the same author 
The Ancient Egyptians: religious beliefs and practices 




A Modern Investigation of 
Pharaoh's Workforce 




First published 1986 
by Routledge & Kegan Paul pic 

This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003. 

First published in paperback 1996 

by Routledge 

11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE 

Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada 

by Routledge 

29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 

© 1986, 1996 A.R.David 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or 

reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, 

mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter 

invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any 

information storage or retrieval system, without permission in 

writing from the publishers. 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data 
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data 

David, A.Rosalie (Ann Rosalie) 

The pyramid builders of ancient Egypt. 

Bibliography: p. 

Includes index. 

1. Kahun (Ancient city) 2. Egypt — Social life 

and customs — To 332 B.C. 3. Egypt — antiquities. 

4. Pyramid of Sesostris II (Egypt) 5. Fayyum (Egypt) — 

Antiquities. I. Title. 

DT73.K28D38 1986 932 85-10775 

ISBN 0-203-44261-X Master e-book ISBN 

ISBN 0-203-75085-3 (Adobe eReader Format) 
ISBN 0-415-15292-5 (Print Edition) 





1 The Geography and Historical Background 13 

2 The Lahun Pyramid 40 

3 The Towns of the Royal Workmen 56 


4 The Site and its Excavation 101 

Legal and Medical Practices, Education and Religion 114 

6 Everyday Life at Kahun 142 

7 The Foreign Population at Kahun 175 

8 Last Years at Kahun 195 


9 Analysis of Egyptian Pottery 207 

10 The Chemical Analysis of the Kahun Metals 215 

11 Kahun: The Textile Evidence 226 



INDEX 256 


Plates (between pages 174 and 175) 

1 Dr Jesse Haworth 

2 Sir William Flinders Petrie 

3 The first Egyptology gallery at Manchester Museum, 1913 

4 Flinders Petrie, his wife Hilda, and C.T.Campion at Kahun, 

5 Artist's reconstruction drawing of the town of Kahun 

6 Part of a group of objects found in a house in the 
workmen's western quarter at Kahun 

7 Stone and faience jars used to hold perfumed ointments 
and oils 

8 A selection of jewellery 

9 A dancer's mask 

10 A curious stone stand used in a house in Kahun 

11 Examples of basket-making and rush- work 

12 Domestic pottery 

13 An oblong wooden stool 

14 Impression of a carpenter making a wooden stool at Kahun 

15 Small wooden cosmetic boxes 

16 Larger wooden boxes 

17 Firesticks from Kahun 

18 Builders' tools 

19 A selection of stone, copper and bronze knives 

20 Cast metal tools 

21 A selection of carpenters' tools 

22 Agricultural tools 

23 A wooden sickle with flint saws 

24 Children's toys 

viii Illustrations 

25 Clay figurines 

26 An early example of a sling 

27 Examples of 'foreign' pottery found at Kahun 

28 Scene from the tomb of the Vizier Rekhmire at Thebes 
(18th Dynasty) 

29 The remains of the village of Deir el-Medina at Thebes 

30 The pyramid of Lahun built for Sesostris II 

31 Reproductions of the wig ornaments and crown of Princess 
S it-Hathor-Iunut 

32 Model of a weavers' workshop from the tomb of Mekhet-Re 
(12th Dynasty) 


1 Map of Egypt 15 

2 Map of the Fayoum oasis, showing location of Kahun, 
Lahun pyramid and Gurob 1 9 

3 Plan showing town of Kahun in relation to pyramid of 
Lahun 102 

4 Plan of Kahun town 105 

5 a) & b) Foreigners shown in the Tomb of Khnumhotep at 
Beni Hasan 159 

6 An impression of the type of smelting hearth in use at the 
time of Kahun 217 

7 A hole drilled in one of the Kahun axes 220 

8 The Universities Research Reactor at Risley 222 

9 The gamma spectrum of an irradiated sample from a Kahun 
knife 223 

10 a) & b) Weaving sequence. Tomb of Khnumhotep, Beni 
Hasan 227 

11 Weaving sequence. Tomb of Khnumhotep, Beni Hasan 229 

12 Horizontal loom. Tomb of Khnumhotep, Beni Hasan 230 


Preparation for this book has been in hand for several years, and 
has drawn upon the help, skills and advice of many people. I 
would like to express my gratitude to those who made the initial 
studies possible: the Director of the Manchester Museum, for 
enabling me to publish the Kahun material in the collection; the 
Petrie Museum at University College London, for granting 
permission both to study their Kahun artefacts and to examine 
the diaries and excavation reports of Sir William Flinders Petrie, 
from which several extracts are quoted in this book. I would like 
to thank my colleagues, Mrs Joan Allgrove McDowell, Dr G. 
Gilmore and Dr G. W.A.Newton, for their contributions to the book, 
and for their co-operation and substantial endeavours on behalf 
of the Kahun Project. 

Many people have contributed to the production of the book. 
For the illustrative material, I am indebted to Mr W.Thomas of 
the Manchester Museum for the photographs of the Kahun 
collection, and to Mr P.A.Clayton for the photographs of the Lahun 
treasure, the scenes in the tomb of Rekhmire, the Lahun pyramid, 
and the village of Deir el-Medina. I would like to thank Dr M.Saleh, 
Director of the Cairo Museum, for granting permission to include 
the photograph of the model of the weavers' shop from the tomb 
of Meket-Re c , which has been kindly supplied by the Cairo 
Museum. I am grateful to Mr E.G.Yong Wong for enabling us to 
use his reconstruction drawings of Kahun town and the Kahun 

The publishers have given me every encouragement and 
support, and I am particularly grateful to Ms Elizabeth Fidlon for 
her enthusiastic reception of the idea of a book on this theme, to 
Mr A.Wheatcroft who, as editor, has guided it through to its 


x Acknowledgments 

conclusion, and to Ms Victoria Peters for initiating this particular 

Finally, my special thanks and appreciation are due to Mrs 
Carole Higginbottom who typed the manuscript, and to my 
husband for his continuing support. 


South-west of Cairo, the modern capital of Egypt, on the west 
side of the Nile, there lies the province of Fayoum, the largest of 
the country's oases, which owes its remarkable fertility both to 
springs of water, and to the Bahr Yusef, a channel through which 
the waters of the Nile flow into the famous lake of the oasis, known 
today as the 'Birket El-Qarun'. In antiquity, as today, the area 
provided excellent hunting and fishing, and the kings and their 
courtiers visited the area regularly to enjoy these pastimes. The 
kings of the 12th Dynasty (1991-1786 BC) chose to build their 
capital city here, and to be buried in pyramids built nearby, on 
the edge of the desert. Their decision brought unprecedented 
activity and prosperity to the area; not only was a workforce 
employed to build and decorate each king's pyramid and 
associated temples, but officials and overseers were brought in to 
supervise the work. Subsequently, priests and other personnel 
were employed in the pyramid temples, where the king's mortuary 
cult was performed after his death and burial. Around this nucleus, 
the community soon developed and lawyers, doctors, scribes, 
craftsmen, tradesmen and all the other elements of a thriving 
society came together. 

It was in the Fayoum, in the late nineteenth century, that 
the famous Egyptologist, Sir William Flinders Petrie, made 
one of his earliest and most significant discoveries. In 1888/ 
9, he began his excavation of several sites in the area. These 
sites lay at the north and south ends of the great dyke of the 
Fayoum mouth. At the north was the pyramid of Illahun (or 
Lahun) built by King Sesostris II, and around it lay the 
cemetery which had been started in the 12th Dynasty, and 
then ransacked, before the tombs were re-used between the 

2 Introduction 

21st and 26th Dynasties. A small temple adjoined the pyramid 
on the east, and half a mile distant on the edge of the desert 
lay another temple, also part of the original pyramid complex. 
North of the larger temple was situated the town of the 
pyramid workmen, known today as 'Kahun'. At the south end 
of the dyke, a later town, built in the 18th Dynasty, also 
attracted Petrie's attention. Egyptologists know it by the name 
of 'Gurob' or 'Medinet Gurob'. 

An entry in his Journal for the period 24 February to 2 March 
1889 clearly indicates Petrie's initial interest in the site of Kahun, 
and his accurate perception of its historical importance: 

The town beyond the temple (called Medinet Kahun I hear) 

I now suspect to be of the age of the temple, 12th Dynasty, 
and to be almost untouched since then. If so, it will be a 
prize to work for historical interest of dated objects. I 
cannot be certain yet as to its age, but the pottery is quite 
unlike any that I yet know, except some chips of 12th 
Dynasty that I got at Hawara: and the walls of the town run 
regardless of natural features, over a low hill and back 
again but square with the temple. 

In the 1888/9 season, Petrie, anxious to prevent a German dealer 
Kruger from ransacking the sites, placed a small number of 
workmen at Kahun and Gurob. He visited them and supervised 
their work as frequently as possible from the nearby site of Hawara 
which he was currently working. According to an entry in his 
Journal (8-15 April 1889), he was finally able to start his 
excavation at Kahun: 

So at last, I felt justified in beginning the site I had been 
longing to try, the town adjoining the temple of Usertesen 

II [Sesostris II), which I had guessed might be of the 12th 

After leaving Hawara, he divided his time between the two sites 
of Illahun and the associated town, Kahun, and Gurob. 

On my Illahun days, I have my wash before I go out, carry 
my breakfast tied up in a towel, look over this place on my 
way, and get to Illahun, about 10 or 11... After seeing the 

Introduction 3 

work there, I have breakfast about noon; go over to Tell 
Gurob, look over that and pay up, and then come back. 

These sites, and Kahun in particular, were not to disappoint 
Petrie. Kahun was built, c.1895 BC, to house the workmen 
employed in building the pyramid and temples of King Sesostris 
II. However, it was also occupied by officials who supervised 
the pyramid building programme, and later, by priests and other 
personnel who served in the temples. The kings of the 12th 
Dynasty developed various irrigation projects in this area, and 
Kahun would also have played a significant role in these 
concerns. It undoubtedly became a prosperous and important 
centre, and it would be wrong to regard it simply as a pyramid 
workmen's town. In antiquity, both the town and the temple, 
which adjoined it and was part of the pyramid complex, were 
known by the name of 'Hetep-Sesostris' — 'Sesostris is pleased, 
or satisfied'. However, Petrie, on discovering the site in 1887, 
asked an old man what the town was called. In his Journal (8-15 
April 1889) he recalls: 

I only got this name (Medinet Kahun) from one man. No 
one else knows any name for it, and he only heard it from 
someone in his youth. It may be wrong, therefore, but it 
will be a name to know it by. 

The discovery and excavation of Kahun was important for several 
reasons. It was the first time that a complete plan of an Egyptian 
town was uncovered. Petrie discovered that the houses were still 
standing, and that many contained property left behind by their 
owners. Laid out by a single architect on a regular plan, the town 
was purpose-built and had not grown randomly. It could be dated 
to two specific periods of occupation, and the objects found at 
the site illustrated living conditions at these periods. 

Most of our knowledge of ancient Egypt is based on the evidence 
of the tombs and temples — their painted and sculptured wall- 
scenes, and the funerary goods which the Egyptians placed in the 
tombs to provide a comfortable afterlife for the deceased. Tombs 
and temples were intended to last 'for eternity' and were therefore 
built of stone. The dwellings of the living, even the royal palaces, 
were constructed mainly of sun-dried mud-brick, and have 
therefore usually succumbed to the ravages of time. 'Living' sites 

4 Introduction 

such as towns and villages are therefore less well preserved and 
few such sites have been discovered or excavated in Egypt. Our 
view of ancient Egyptian society is therefore coloured to some 
degree by the find-spots and types of artefacts which have been 
excavated, for even those towns or settlement sites which have 
been found have not revealed a wealth of objects used by the 
inhabitants in their daily pursuits. 

However, at Kahun, the domestic wares, the workmen's tools, 
the agricultural equipment, weaving equipment, children's toys, 
the make-up and jewellery of the women, and the articles 
associated with their daily religious observances have all been 
discovered, lying as they were left, some 4,000 years ago, in the 
streets and rooms of the houses. In addition to the objects of daily 
use, a collection of papyri found at Kahun provides written records 
of civil and domestic life, and includes details of legal cases, 
medical treatments and veterinary practices. This material 
provides the historian with a unique opportunity to examine the 
living and working conditions of ordinary men and women. 

The objects excavated from Kahun were ultimately distributed 
amongst various museums around the world, but the largest 
proportion of this material was divided more or less equally 
between Petrie's own collection, now held in the Department of 
Egyptology at University College London, and the Manchester 
Museum at the University of Manchester. Here in Manchester, 
the objects from Kahun, together with a substantial number from 
Petrie's excavations at Gurob, came to form the nucleus of an 
important Egyptology collection. The existence of such a collection 
was largely due to the generous patronage of a local textile 
manufacturer, Jesse Haworth, for his interest in the subject led 
him initially to support Petrie's excavations at Kahun and Gurob, 
and subsequently to establish the collection in Manchester. 

Jesse Haworth, a partner in the Manchester firm of James 
Dilworth and Sons, yarn merchants, was a highly esteemed 
businessman, and one of the longest-established members of the 
Royal Exchange in the city. He collected Wedgwood china and 
paintings, but his great passion was Egyptology. This interest 
probably began around 1877, when the novelist Amelia B.Edwards 
published her best-selling book, A1000 Miles up the Nile, in which 
she described her own journey. Jesse Haworth and his wife read 
this book together, and derived such pleasure from it that they 
decided to follow in Amelia Edwards's footsteps. They made the 

Introduction 5 

same Nile journey in 1882, and on their return, they never ceased 
to support and encourage Egyptology, especially in Manchester. 
Amelia Edwards was a remarkable woman who founded the Egypt 
Exploration Fund to further the aims of scientific excavation and 
publication, and to generate public support and enthusiasm for 
Egyptology. In her will, she bequeathed her library and valuable 
collection of Egyptian antiquities to University College London; 
she also left a sum of £2,400 to found the first chair of Egyptology 
in Britain, at University College London, expressing a wish that 
Petrie should be appointed. He held this post for forty years. It 
was a meeting with Amelia Edwards, shortly after his return from 
Egypt, that inspired Jesse Haworth to give financial support to 
the subject, and in 1887, he began to show his enthusiasm in a 
practical way when he secured the throne, chessboard and 
chessmen of the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut, which had been 
discovered in Egypt in the previous year. The throne was in pieces, 
but it was skilfully reassembled and exhibited at the Jubilee 
Exhibition in Manchester in 1887. When the exhibition closed, 
Haworth presented it to the British Museum. 

His donations to the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum 
in Oxford, and the Egypt Exploration Fund were generous, but it 
was his support of Petrie's excavations in the Fayoum which was 
particularly significant. Petrie had become Hon. Joint Secretary of 
the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1883, and excavated for the Fund in 
Egypt during 1884-6. However, he quarrelled with them, and 
decided to set up an archaeological body of his own, which would 
be independent. With his original source of funding for excavation 
no longer available, he faced considerable difficulties, but through 
the good offices of Amelia Edwards, Jesse Haworth was approached. 
Petrie received the welcome news that a new avenue of support for 
his excavations in Egypt had appeared. In his book Seventy Years 
in Archaeology, Petrie recalls this important turning point, 

While in England, I heard that the offer of help in 
excavating came from Jesse Haworth of Manchester, 
through the kind intervention of Miss Edwards. Just at the 
same time, I had an offer of assistance from Martyn 
Kennard, who had a family interest in Egypt. Nevertheless 
I did not wish to pledge my time to be entirely at the 
service of anyone. The plan, which worked very smoothly, 
was that I drew on my two friends for all costs of workmen 

6 Introduction 

and transport, while I paid all my own expenses. In return, 
we equally divided all that came to England. Thus it was 
my interest to find as much as I could. 

In 1890, Jesse Haworth and Martyn Kennard presented to the 
Manchester Museum the unique and valuable set of objects of 
daily use from Petrie's excavations at Kahun, Illahun and Gurob. 
These constituted one of the best collections of Egyptian 
antiquities in Britain. They were only the first of a succession of 
gifts made by Haworth to the Museum, which he acquired from 
Petrie's excavations. For some nine years, he and Kennard were 
the sole major supporters of his excavations. 

His magnificent donations to the Manchester collection kindled 
great interest in Egyptology in the area. The Museum's first major 
Egyptian acquisition had been the gift of a mummy with its coffins 
belonging to 'Asm, Chantress of Amun in the Temple of Karnak'. 
These were presented to the Manchester Natural History Society 
(founders of the Museum) in 1825, when it was claimed that this 
was 'one of the best preserved mummies in the kingdom'. It was, 
however, Jesse Haworth who contributed most to the Egyptian 
collection, and the year 1911 was an important landmark in the 
Museum's history. 

By now, public enthusiasm for Egyptology had been widely 
fostered in Manchester. In 1906, Professor Petrie was invited 
to lecture in Manchester, and before a large audience in the 
Chemical Theatre of the University, he addressed a rapt 
audience on the subject of The Hyksos and Israelite Cities'. 
Contemporary newspaper cuttings describe the reception of his 
account of this discovery, and his appeal for public support for 
the work of exploration was received with enthusiasm. From 
then onwards, not only Jesse Haworth, but also the people of 
Manchester, took up active support of Egyptology. Petrie's 
suggestion for a local society, operating on the lines of the 
Egyptian Research Students' Association in London, was put 
into effect, and the Manchester Egyptian Association was 
founded. This was intended to further the study of Egyptology 
in the area in every possible way, and Jesse Haworth was elected 
its first President. Regular meetings were held at which lectures 
were given and discussions took place, and it attracted 
important members, including famous anthropologists and 
anatomists such as Elliot Smith and Boyd Dawkins. Sir Flinders 

Introduction 7 

Petrie continued to visit Manchester annually for many years, 
providing a continuing stimulus for the Association, by giving 
the first Museum lecture of the session. In later years, Lady 
Petrie continued this tradition, and the links between 
Manchester and the Petries flourished for many years. 

By 1911, Haworth's generous and continuing donations to the 
Museum persuaded the University to consider a scheme to extend 
the Museum to provide suitable accommodation for the fine 
collection of Egyptian antiquities which the Museum now 
possessed but was unable to exhibit properly. The Manchester 
Egyptian Association opened a fund for subscriptions to assist 
this enterprise, but it was Jesse Haworth's generosity which finally 
enabled this scheme to be realised. The Jesse Haworth Building 
was opened in 1912 and the collections, with the Kahun and Gurob 
material as a central feature, were displayed to the public. In 
recognition of his generosity, and of his position as one of the 
first patrons of scientific excavation in Egypt, the University of 
Manchester conferred on him the honorary Degree of Doctor of 
Laws in 1913. 

The collections, drawn from many of Petrie's most important 
sites, included such special features as the fine array of domestic 
articles; the excavated material from predynastic and early 
dynastic sites; the unique tomb group of the 'Two Brothers' from 
Rifeh; splendid examples of Old Kingdom craftsmanship; and the 
spectacular cartonnage masks and painted panel portraits which 
Petrie had excavated from the Graeco-Roman period sites in the 

In 1919, Jesse Haworth donated a further £10,000 to the 
Museum, and under the terms of his Will, in 1921, he bequeathed 
to it £30,000 and his own private collection of Egyptian 
antiquities. Before his death in 1920, he approved plans for a 
third stage of the Museum building which was to give a further 
display area and much-needed workrooms and storage space for 
the Egyptian collections. This extension was opened by his 
widow in November 1927. 

The story of the Kahun excavation and the development of 
Egyptology at the Manchester Museum are therefore closely 
interwoven. However, it is a series of events in the last few years 
which have led to the new, scientific study of the artefacts from 
Kahun which may help to answer some of the questions which 
Petrie himself posed. 

8 Introduction 

In 1975, the Manchester Museum became widely known 
through the Press and the media, when one of the Egyptian 
mummies in the collection was unwrapped and subjected to 
intensive investigation by a team of Egyptologists and medical 
and scientific experts from Manchester and elsewhere. This was 
the first time since 1908 that an Egyptian mummy had been 
scientifically dissected in Britain. On the previous occasion, Dr 
Margaret Murray, the first curator of the Egyptian collection in 
Manchester, gathered together a team of scientists and unwrapped 
the mummies of the 'Two Brothers' in the University. The current 
project which was inaugurated in 1973 sought to use a wide range 
of the most recent medical and scientific techniques to examine 
all the human and animal mummies in the Manchester collection. 
A multi-disciplinary team was brought together, and, in addition 
to discovering information about the occurrence of disease, 
possible causes of death, dietary habits, living conditions and 
funerary beliefs and customs, the project planned to establish a 
methodology which other institutions could adopt and adapt for 
the examination of their own collections. Only one of the 
mummies was unwrapped. The rest were examined by means of 
other techniques, particularly radiology, which is non-destructive. 
Investigation of the mummified viscera was carried out, using 
various histo-pathological techniques. Since 1979, a new range 
of virtually non-destructive methods have been developed 
including endoscopy and serology, and these were employed to 
provide additional information. 

An International Mummy Data Bank, using the University 
Computer, has been established at the Museum. This holds 
information on mummies in collections around the world. 
Eventually, it is hoped that it maybe possible to determine patterns 
of disease and diet in mummies from different periods and 
sociological groups. 

A logical development of this initial scientific study at the 
Museum, which still continues to pioneer new research, was to 
extend the principles involved to another major area of the 
Egyptian collection. The concept had been established that a group 
of specialists, experts in a wide range of scientific techniques, 
could work together with the Egyptologists in an attempt to extract 
new information from the artefacts, and to answer some of the 
questions which the excavations had produced. The material from 
Kahun was particularly appropriate. It formed a unique collection 

Introduction 9 

of objects which had not been studied since Petrie's day and had 
never been subjected to the sophisticated scientific scrutiny now 
available. The tools, weapons and other objects could provide 
unparalleled information about the ancient technology of the 
period and about the lifestyle of the town's inhabitants. In 
particular, analyses of the pottery and metal artefacts could be 
carried out, in an attempt to examine anew Petrie's theory that a 
significant proportion of foreign labour was resident at Kahun in 
the Middle Kingdom. The Kahun project was therefore established 
to 'rework' some of the material from the site. 

This, then, is the story of a 'detective investigation', carried out 
on the artefacts which were handled and used by the inhabitants 
of Kahun some 4,000 years ago before the town was deserted. It 
shows how modern research can reveal new details about everyday 
existence in an ancient community like Kahun, although it can 
never present a complete picture. Nevertheless, by piecing together 
the evidence derived from these simple, utilitarian articles, we 
can learn much of the lifestyle of the period, and can share 
something of Petrie's enthusiasm which he expressed in his own 

...having examined hundreds of the rooms, and having 
discovered all the ordinary objects of daily life as they 
were last handled by their owners, I seem to have touched 
and realised much of the civilisation of that remote age; 
so that it is hard to realise that over 4,000 years have 
glided by since those houses last echoed to the voices of 
their occupants. 




The Geography and Historical 

The geography of Egypt 

Every civilisation reflects, to some degree, the influence of its 
environment. Egypt is a country where, perhaps more than most, 
the physical and natural features provide a dramatic and 
contrasting setting for human events. It would be difficult to reside 
in Egypt and remain unaffected by the natural forces and their 
cycles. In antiquity, as now, the two great life-giving forces were 
the Nile and the sun, and in their religious beliefs the Egyptians 
recognised the omnipotence of these, as well as the existence of 
the other natural elements which shaped their world. 

In the words of a Classical writer, Egypt is the 'gift of the Nile'. 
The existence of the fertile areas has always been due to the natural 
phenomenon of the regular inundation of the river, for Egypt's 
scanty and irregular rainfall would never have supplied sufficient 
water to support crops and animals. The Nile, Africa's longest 
river, rises far to the south of Egypt, in the region of the Great 
Lakes near the equator. Known as Bahr el-Jebel (Mountain Nile) 
in its upper course, after its junction with the Bahr el-Ghazel it 
becomes the White Nile. In the highlands of Ethiopia, another 
river, the Blue Nile, rises in Lake Tana, and the Blue and White 
Niles join at Khartoum. From Khartoum to Aswan the river is now 
interrupted by a series of six cataracts. These are not waterfalls, 
but appear as scattered groups of rocks across the river which 
obstruct the stream, and at the Fourth, Second and First cataracts, 
interfere with navigation. Egypt begins at the First Cataract, and 
comprises the area between this natural barrier and the 
Mediterranean, some 965 km to the north. It was in the region of 
the northernmost cataracts that the Egyptians, from early times, 


14 The background 

subdued the local population, to gain access to the hard stone 
and gold supplies of Nubia. 

Within Egypt, the Nile follows a course which divides into two 
regions. The Nile Valley, a passage which the river has forced 
through the desert, runs from Aswan to just below modern Cairo, 
a distance of some 804 km. The scenery along this valley varies 
from steep rocky cliffs which rise up on either side of the river, 
and then give way to the encroaching deserts, to flat, cultivated 
plains, with lush vegetation which, again, in the far distance, 
succumb to the desert. This cultivated area, wrung from the desert 
by the irrigation of the land with the Nile floods, varies in width; 
in parts, the Nile Valley is between twelve and six miles wide, 
but elsewhere, the cliffs hug the edges of the river and there is no 
cultivatable land. Nowhere in Egypt is the traveller more aware 
of the significance of the river's life-force, for here there is virtually 
no rainfall. The sun is always present, and without the Nile, this 
region would be desert, like the surrounding area. 

The ancient Egyptians recognised the geographical facts and 
divided their country into two regions. In earliest times, this was 
a political as well as a geographical reality, but even after the 
unification of the country, the concept of 'Two Lands' was still 
present. To them, the Nile Valley was 'Upper Egypt', whereas the 
northern area, the Delta, was 'Lower Egypt'. 

Today, the modern capital of Egypt, Cairo, stands at the apex of 
the Delta. In antiquity, the ancient capital of Memphis lay a few 
miles south, and from here there was a marked change in the Nile 
and its surrounding countryside. Here, the river fans out into a 
delta nearly one hundred miles long; through the two main 
branches at Rosetta in the west and Damietta in the east, it finally 
flows into the Mediterranean. The Delta forms a flat, low-lying 
plain, scored by the Nile's main and lesser branches; at its widest, 
northern perimeter, it spreads out over some two hundred miles. 
However, despite the considerable area of watered land in this 
region, much of the Delta is marshy or water-logged and cannot 
be cultivated. Here in antiquity, the nobility and courtiers enjoyed 
favourite outdoor pastimes of fishing and fowling in the marshes. 
The climate in the north also differs from that of Upper Egypt, for 
the temperatures are more moderate and there is some rainfall. 

The 'Two Lands' were therefore distinct regions, but were 
nevertheless interdependent, joined together by the unifying 
force of the Nile. However, their geographical features imposed 

FIGURE 1 Map of Egypt (Taken from G.Posener (ed.), A Dictionary of Egyptian 

16 The background 

different attitudes on their inhabitants. Lower Egypt, closest to 
the Mediterranean, looked towards the other countries to the north, 
and was more readily receptive of influences from outside, 
becoming a centre for the cross-currents of the politics and culture 
of the ancient world. Upper Egypt, encapsulated by the deserts 
and bordered on the south by the land of Nubia, was more isolated 
from new ideas and influences. The contrast between the Two 
Lands can be seen not only in the geographical and environmental 
features, but in the distinctive art schools which emerged and 
even in the physique of the people. The northerners tended to be 
more stockily built, with lighter skins, while the southerners 
displayed something of the angularity evident in the southern 
school of art. However, these are broad generalisations, for Egypt 
remained a strongly unified country; at different periods, the 
capital moved from one region to another, and with it, the courtiers, 
officials, craftsmen, and workforce associated with the 
requirements of a great city; and the art followed the same broad 
traditional principles in both north and south, so that today only 
an experienced eye can detect differences in the ancient regional 
art styles. 

It was the Nile however which enabled the Egyptians to cultivate 
crops and to rear animals, and indeed to develop their remarkable 
civilisation. Rain in Upper Egypt was the exception, and the 
infrequent, short and violent rainbursts could often bring damage; 
these were regarded as evil rather than beneficent events. In the 
Delta also, only the northernmost area benefited from the wintry 
rains of the Mediterranean. It was the annual inundation of the 
Nile which brought life to the parched land. 

This was the most important natural event of the year, and 
inevitably became the focus of religious attention. The annual rains 
in tropical Africa caused the waters of the Blue Nile to swell; in 
Egypt, this eventually had the effect of causing the river to flood 
its banks, and spread out over the fields, carrying with it the rich, 
black mud which was deposited on the land. It was this silt and 
the people's management of the water which enabled the Egyptians 
to grow and cultivate crops. The rise of the river was first noticeable 
at Aswan in late June; by July, the muddy silt began to arrive. The 
swelling flood would cover the surrounding fields, and if it 
breached the dykes, would submerge the fields and villages to a 
depth of several feet. The flood finally reached the area near Cairo 
at the end of September, and the waters would then gradually 

The geography and historical background 17 

recede, with the river contained within its banks by October and 
reaching its lowest level in the following April. Thus, the 
countryside presented great extremes — for part of the year, the 
villages and palm trees could be marooned like islands in the 
expanse of floodwater; by the end of the cycle, the earth would be 
parched and cracked, awaiting the new, life-giving waters of the 
next inundation. 

However, the Nile's gift was variable and although it rose 
unfailingly, the height of the inundation fluctuated. A Nile which 
was too high would flood the land and bring devastation and the 
ruination of the crops; towns, villages and houses could also be 
destroyed, with the consequent and considerable loss of life. On 
the other hand, a low Nile would bring famine. The erratic nature 
of the inundation was a constant threat to the safety and prosperity 
of the people, and although the Egyptians showed great awareness 
of their dependence on the inundation in their religious literature, 
they were also constantly concerned that the inundation should 
not be exceptional. Indeed, it is not surprising that moderation 
and balance were amongst their most highly valued concepts. 

In addition to their religious observances, from earliest times, 
they took practical measures to control and regulate the Nile 
waters. Started in the predynastic period, their irrigation system 
evolved a pattern whereby the land was divided up into sections 
of varying sizes, each being enclosed by strong earth banks. These 
banks were arranged on a chequerboard system, with long banks 
running parallel to the river, and another series running across 
them, from the river to the desert edge. At the inundation, the 
water was let into the banked sections through canals, and was 
held there while the silt settled. Once the river had fallen, the 
water was drained off, and the ploughing and sowing began. This 
system provided Egypt with rich agricultural land, and the need 
for such a system was also probably responsible for the early 
centralisation and organisation of the country. 

The interdependence of physically isolated village communities 
on the all-important joint project of constructing, extending and 
maintaining an irrigation system gave the people an awareness of 
the need to co-operate and an acceptance of a strong centralised 
state. Dykes and dams were built, canals were dug and the system 
was maintained with the active support of the first kings. Today, 
the advent of a successful harvest is no longer dependent on nature, 
and on the petitions addressed to the Nile god, Hapy, and to Osiris, 

18 The background 

the god of vegetation and rebirth. Modern technology has led to 
the building of dams at certain points on the river, enabling the 
volume of water to be held back and supplied for irrigation as 
required, through a series of canals. 

The physical division of Egypt into northern and southern 
regions is not the only geographical distinction which the 
Egyptians recognised. It is still possible today to stand with 
one foot in the desert and one in the cultivation, along the 
clearly defined line of demarcation between these two areas. 
For the Egyptians, the cultivated area represented life, fertility 
and safety; here, with assiduous husbandry, they could grow 
ample crops, and establish their communities. The name they 
gave to their whole country was 'Kemet', which means the 
'Black Land'. This referred to the cultivation, fertilised for 
countless years by the black mud of the inundation. Beyond 
this strip, however, lay the desert, stretching away to the horizon 
under the glaring sun, a place of death and terror to the 
Egyptians. They gave this the name of 'Deshret', meaning 'Red 
Land', because of the colour of the rocks and the sand. These 
two regions symbolised life and death, and probably influenced 
some of their most basic religious ideas. 

The other most important natural life-force was of course the 
sun. The Egyptians acknowledged this as the creative force and 
sustainer of life, and worshipped it under several names as a god; 
however, Re c was the name by which the solar deity was 
continuously and most frequently known. 

The two great life-forces of sun and Nile had much in common. 
Both expressed, in their natural cycles, patterns of life, death and 
rebirth. The sun rose every morning and set at night, to reappear 
unfailingly on the horizon; the Nile annually imparted its gift of 
water, so that the life, death and rebirth of the countryside was 
vividly experienced. It has been suggested that this regular 
environmental pattern impressed itself so clearly on the Egyptian 
consciousness that they transferred the concept of life, death and 
rebirth, seen in natural cycles, to the human experience. From 
their earliest development, it seems that they believed in the 
continued existence of the individual — his rebirth — after death, 
and the concept of eternity remained a constant feature of their 
religious and funerary ideas. Although the supposed exact location 
of this continued existence varied in the different historical 
periods and according to the individual's social status, all 

The geography and historical background 19 

Egyptians believed in some kind of afterlife and, for those who 
could afford it, elaborate preparations of the tomb and associated 
funerary equipment were made, to facilitate the deceased's journey 
into the next world. Both the gods associated with these life-forces — 

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FIGURE 2 Map of the Fayoum oasis, showing location of Kahun, Latum pyramid 
and Gurob. (From W.M.FPetrie, Illahun, Kahun & Gurob, pi. XXX). 

20 The background 

Re c as the solar god, and Osiris, the god who symbolised vegetation 
and was king of the underworld by virtue of his own resurrection 
from the dead — promised regeneration and eternity to their 

It was possible for the often unique ideas which distinguished 
the Egyptian civilisation to flourish over many centuries and to 
develop largely unaffected by outside influences, because of the 
geographical situation of the country A glance at a map of Egypt 
will immediately reveal the importance of its natural barriers. In 
antiquity, these were of more significance than they are today, for 
they encapsulated Egypt and buffered it against all invaders, so 
that, unlike many other areas, in the earlier times at least, Egypt 
was not subjected to continuous waves of conquerors. To the north, 
there lies the Mediterranean and to the south, the African 
hinterland; on the east there is the eastern desert and the Red Sea, 
while to the west, with its seemingly endless desolate hills, the 
Libyan desert stretches out. Here, in an otherwise waterless 
expanse, there runs an irregular chain of oases, scattered roughly 
parallel to the river. The largest 'oasis' (although, strictly speaking, 
it is not a true oasis) is the Fayoum, a depression in the desert, 
into which runs a minor channel, some 321 km long, known as 
the 'Bahr Yusef (Joseph's river). This channel leaves the main 
stream of the Nile west of the river near the modern town of Assiut. 
It was here, in the Fayoum, that the community of Kahun lived 
some 4,000 years ago. But before returning to consider this area 
in more detail, it is necessary to examine the historical events 
which led the kings of the 12th Dynasty to select the Fayoum as 
their centre. 

The historical background 

Most studies of ancient Egyptian history cover the period from c. 
3100 BC down to the conquest of the country by the Macedonian 
king, Alexander the Great, in 332 BC. However, the so-called 
Predynastic Period (5000 BC— c. 3100 BC) laid the foundations 
for much of the subsequent history, and the Graeco-Roman Period 
(332 BC — AD 641) illustrated the final decline and disappearance 
of many of those beliefs and representations that we would 
describe as 'ancient Egyptian'. 

In the Palaeolithic Period, the Nile valley was virtually 
uninhabitable either because for three months of every year it was 

The geography and historical background 21 

under water, or because it was otherwise covered with thick 
vegetation and supported teeming wildlife. The earliest 
inhabitants were hunters who lived on the desert spurs and made 
forays into the valley to pursue their game. 

However, as the floor of the valley became drier, the people 
began to move down and to live together in settlements. Some 
time between 5200 BC and 4000 BC farming developed, and the 
people began to support themselves by growing grain, 
domesticating animals, and continuing to pursue, increasingly 
infrequently, the wild animals. Although these peoples fall into 
two broad geographical groups — one in the Delta and one in the 
Nile Valley — there are general features and patterns of 
development which, as Neolithic communities, they have in 
common. Much of our present knowledge of this era has been 
obtained from the remarkable discoveries and pioneering studies 
of William Flinders Petrie, the excavator of Kahun, and, with 
subsequent research, it has been possible to establish, for Upper 
Egypt, a well-established chronological sequence of divisions 
within the Predynastic Period, which lead up to the 1st Dynasty 
(c. 3100 BC). These are known as the Tasian, Badarian, Nagada I 
and Nagada II periods. In the Tasian and Badarian periods, the 
people practised mixed farming but still lived mainly on the desert 
spurs overlooking the Valley. However, in the Nagada I period, 
they settled along the Valley in fairly isolated communities. By 
the Nagada II period, there was increased contact with other parts 
of the Near East, and gradually, villages and towns in the north 
and south of Egypt developed into two distinct kingdoms, one in 
the Delta, known as the 'Red Land', and one in Upper Egypt, known 
as the 'White Land'. Each had its own king, who was the most 
powerful of the local chieftains in the area. It was the unification 
by a southern ruler of these two kingdoms — the 'Two Lands' — in 
c. 3100 BC that ushered in the historical period, with the 
establishment of the 1st Dynasty. The growing political awareness 
and development in these predynastic times was mirrored in a 
major advancement in the technological, artistic and religious 
spheres, and the artefacts, especially the painted pottery and 
metalwork, show an increasing ability to handle materials. 

However, it was the unification of Egypt by King Menes who 
became the first king of the 1st Dynasty that marks the beginning 
of Egyptian history. The basis of our chronology for the historical 
period (c. 3100-332 BC) rests upon the work of Manetho, a learned 

22 The background 

priest who lived in the reigns of the first two Ptolemaic rulers of 
Egypt (323-245 BC). He wrote a history of Egypt (in Greek) around 
250 BC and prepared a chronicle of Egyptian rulers, dividing them 
into thirty-one dynasties. There seems to be no clear-cut definition 
of a dynasty. Although some contain rulers related to each other 
by family ties, and the end of a dynasty can be marked by a change 
of family (brought about by the end of one line, or by wilful seizure 
of power by another faction), in other cases, family groups span 
more than one dynasty and the change of dynasty was brought 
about peacefully. 

Modern research has shown that Manetho's record (preserved 
imperfectly in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus (AD 
79) and of a Christian chronographer, Sextus Julius Africanus 
(early third century AD) is not always entirely accurate. However, 
as a member of the priesthood, he undoubtedly had access to 
original source material in the ancient King Lists and records 
kept in the temples, and his work remains the basis of our 
chronology. Today, his dynasties are usually grouped together 
by Egyptologists into a number of major periods, distinguished 
by political, social and religious developments. Thus, we find 
that the Archaic Period (1st and 2nd Dynasties) is followed by 
the Old Kingdom (3rd to 6th Dynasties). This is followed by the 
First Intermediate Period (7th to 11th Dynasties), and then the 
Middle Kingdom (12th Dynasty). The Second Intermediate 
Period (13th to 17th Dynasties) leads on to the New Kingdom 
(18th to 20th Dynasties), which in turn gives way to the Third 
Intermediate Period (21st to 25th Dynasties). The Late Period 
(26th to 31st Dynasties) is followed by the Graeco-Roman Period. 
The three greatest periods were the Old, Middle and New 
Kingdoms, which were interspersed by times of internal 
dissension. The story of Kahun falls into the Middle Kingdom 
(1991-1786 BC), although some of the threads must be traced to 
the preceding and subsequent periods. 

King Menes and his immediate successors established the 
foundations of a stable and unified kingdom. Untroubled by any 
major internal or external conflicts, Egypt, during the Archaic 
Period, was able to develop technological skills which were to 
lead to the great advances of the Old Kingdom. Central to their 
beliefs was the idea that the dead, in preparation for an afterlife, 
needed a tomb (a 'house' for eternity), and food, clothing, furniture, 
and other essential equipment. It was also necessary for the body 

The geography and historical background 23 

of the deceased to be preserved in as lifelike a state as possible, to 
enable his spirit to re-enter the body and to partake of the essence 
of the food offerings either placed in the tomb or subsequently 
brought to the associated funerary chapel by the dead person's 

At first, such elaborate funerary preparations were only made 
for the king, and his great courtiers. Other people were simply 
buried in the sand in shallow graves, surrounded by their few 
personal possessions. However, the funerary preparations of the 
few, and especially of the king, were so important that considerable 
resources were devoted to achieving secure and increasingly 
elaborate burial places. The technical advances made in Egypt at 
this early period were primarily directed to this end, and only 
gradually filtered through to benefit the burials at other levels of 
society, and also the general conditions of daily existence. 

Thus in the earliest dynasties, we see the development of a 
type of tomb which is known today as a 'mastaba', because its 
superstructure resembles the shape of a bench, for which 'mastaba' 
is the modern Arabic word. From the 1st Dynasty onwards, kings 
and nobles were buried in mastabas, in the substructure below 
ground. Built of mud-brick, the superstructure was rectangular 
and divided internally into many cells or chambers, in which the 
domestic and other equipment for the next life was stored. This 
structure was almost certainly regarded as a house, embodying 
the same elements as a dwelling for the living, but to be occupied 
by the dead owner's spirit. The substructure incorporated the 
burial pit and was theoretically protected from robbers and animals 
by the superstructure. However, the mastaba afforded only 
ineffectual protection for the body, and in the 2nd and 3rd 
Dynasties the storage area was transferred below ground, and the 
superstructure was built of stone rubble, faced with brick. This 
again failed to defeat the tomb-robbers, but although the mastaba 
continued to be used for nobles, by the beginning of the Old 
Kingdom, the Egyptians had developed for the king the most 
spectacular place of burial — the pyramid. 

The pyramid, as an architectural concept, seems to have 
developed out of the mastaba, and although pyramids were also, 
built in later periods, they most perfectly signify the wealth, single- 
mindedness and religious beliefs of the period of their creation — 
the Old Kingdom. 

For some, the Old Kingdom symbolises the Egyptian civilisation 

24 The background 

at its zenith, when many artistic and architectural forms are seen 
in their first flowering. It is certainly true that, in this period, the 
Egyptians perhaps held the clearest idea of their collective destiny 
and focussed upon one main objective — the building and 
completion of a monumental burial place for their king, which 
would withstand the ravages of time and robbery, which would 
facilitate the god-king's safe passage into eternity, and thus, 
vicariously, would ensure survival beyond death for all his subjects. 

This common goal welded together, in religious and political 
unity, a country which, geographically, was difficult to rule. It 
also inspired great advances in technology and artistic expression, 
and indeed, few if any of the later periods produced such 
originality. King Zoser of the 3rd Dynasty was the first ruler to be 
buried in a pyramid. Apparently designed by his architect, 
Imhotep, it took the form of a stepped structure in six stages, 
representing, it has been argued, a series of mastabas of decreasing 
size, piled upon each other. This pyramid was only the central 
feature of a large funerary complex, with temples and other 
buildings where the king's cult could be performed after the burial. 

Zoser's Step Pyramid, the first large-scale stone building in the 
world, introduced a series of pyramids which continued to be 
raised during the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Altogether, about 
80 were built in the Nile Valley, mainly in the north and, in the 
Middle Kingdom, in the Fayoum. From the Step Pyramid, the 
builders attempted to create a true pyramid, and although some 
of their less successful attempts can still be seen in the transitional 
pyramids at Medum and Dahshur, by the 4th Dynasty, they had 
mastered the necessary techniques. 

At Giza, strung along the plateau, are the three most celebrated 
pyramids, built for the rulers Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus. 
The famous Sphinx stands closely associated with the Pyramid 
of Chephren, and, surrounded by a vast cemetery of mastabas once 
occupied by the families and courtiers of these kings, the pyramids 
form the centre of an extensive mortuary area. 

However, the drain on the resources of the country was 
considerable. Not only did the pyramids and their complexes have 
to be built, but the altars in the mortuary temples of the kings had 
to be continuously replenished with food and other offerings, in 
perpetuity. The king's bounty also extended to his favoured 
courtiers; he gave them their tombs and an 'eternal' food supply 

The geography and historical background 25 

for their associated chapels, to ensure the satisfaction of their souls. 
Before long, the royal coffers were depleted. 

Because of this, and also because of the rising importance of the 
sun-god, Re c , to whose priesthood the impoverished kings were 
becoming increasingly subordinate, the pyramids of the 5th and 6th 
Dynasties suffered a lessening of standards. Although they conform 
to the same regular pattern, these pyramids were constructed of 
inferior materials, with brick or rubble cores instead of stone. It was 
the new solar temples of the 5th Dynasty which now benefited from 
the major direction of royal resources. Indeed the method of 
construction of the pyramids provides a fair indication of the 
economic prosperity of Egypt and of the power of the king. 

By the end of the 6th Dynasty, the stable society of the Old 
Kingdom, which must have appeared unassailable, began to 
disintegrate. The seeds of destruction — the withering away of royal 
resources with the king's gifts to the nobility and the priesthoods; 
the gradual lessening of the king's power at the expense of the 
nobles (who now built increasingly fine tombs) and the priests 
(especially of Re c , who probably supported the succession of the 
5th Dynasty kings); and, with his marriage to commoners, the 
abandonment of the myth that the king was half-divine, born of 
the Great Queen and the chief state-god — had long been present. 
Economic and political pressures weakened the king's hold. The 
governors of distant provinces at one time held their posts on a 
non-hereditary basis and were therefore anxious to remain loyal 
to the king. However, since these became hereditary, passing from 
father to son without the need of the king's consent, the local 
governors became increasingly independent in their attitude 
towards the centralised government at Memphis. They often no 
longer elected to be buried in mastabas near the king's pyramid, 
but were buried in rock-cut tombs in the cliffs of their own 
localities. In effect, they became minor princelings, and Egypt was 
soon to revert to the decentralisation of the Predynastic Period, 
when many chieftains had held sway in their own districts. 

With the long reign of Pepy II at the end of the 6th Dynasty, and 
possibly exacerbated by incursions of Beduin on Egypt's 
northeastern border, the kingdom finally succumbed to the many 
internal and external pressures. During the First Intermediate 
Period, there was anarchy for nearly a century and a half. 
Centralised government broke down, and the country was split 
once again into warring factions which fought each other, 

26 The background 

sometimes in loose alliances, to gain control of various areas. 
Consequently, the irrigation system, dependent upon centralised 
order and control, broke down, and famine and despair became 
commonplace. We are fortunate that a number of manuscripts have 
been discovered which describe events during this period, and 
provide a vivid picture of the horrors which afflicted the Egyptians. 

One manuscript, the so-called 'Admonitions of a Prophet', tells 
how a terrible calamity overtakes Egypt. People rebel against the 
officials, the foreign mercenary troops are in revolt, and Asiatics 
threaten the eastern frontier. However, the aged king is oblivious 
of the state of his country, living in his palace, and protected by 
the lies of his courtiers. At this point, a sage or prophet, Ipuwer, 
comes to the court and describes the state of the country and of its 
people, and also predicts the misery yet to come. It has been 
convincingly argued that this story reflects conditions at the end 
of the Old Kingdom, and that the aged king is Pepy II. 

Another poem, known as the 'Dispute with his Soul of One 
who is Tired of Life', reflects the individual misery of the same 
period. A man, impoverished and disillusioned with the 
conditions of his life, argues with his soul. The man wishes to kill 
himself, and compares the joys of death with the agonies of his 
present existence. However, the soul, anxious that, if the man dies 
without adequate funerary provision of tomb and goods, the soul 
will be threatened with hunger and discomfort, tries to persuade 
him not to follow this course. We are told of the general social 
evils — men's covetousness, theft, and the lack of trust even 
amongst brothers and friends. In the account which Ipuwer gives, 
the irrigation system has broken down, the poor have seized the 
riches of their former masters, plague and famine are rife, and 
bodies remain unburied. His own words paint a dismal picture — 

Nay, but the Nile is in flood, yet none plougheth for him. 
Every man saith: 'We know not what hath happened 
throughout the land.' 


Nay, but poor men now possess fine things. He who once 
made for himself sandals now possesseth riches. 

In time, however, the grief and destruction passed. Egypt, in the 

The geography and historical background 27 

second half of the 11th Dynasty, was once again united. There was 
a return to more settled conditions under three kings, all named 
Mentuhotep, who had been princes of the city of Thebes which 
would one day become the great capital of Egypt in the New 
Kingdom. The widespread destruction of the monuments and the 
ravages of the countryside became memories, but the events could 
never be completely erased and the Egyptians' perception of 
themselves was changed. The simple concepts of the Old Kingdom, 
rooted in the stability of the society and the invulnerability of the 
king, no longer held sway. New beliefs were required to meet the 
emotional and religious needs of the people, and these, together 
with a political maturity, were to develop and flourish during the 
Middle Kingdom. 

The first Mentuhotep — Nebhepetre-Mentuhotep — brought the 
country together, and he is also remembered for the unique 
funerary monument which he built at Deir el-Bahri on the west 
bank opposite Thebes. This incorporated a small pyramid, a rock- 
cut burial chamber beneath the cliff, and a mortuary temple. One 
of his successors, Mentuhotep III, had in his employ a powerful 
official named Amenemmes. He was the vizier and governor of 
all Upper Egypt and 'overseer of everything in the entire land', 
but his loyalty to his king was apparently nonexistent, and he 
usurped the throne, making himself King Sehetepibre 
Amenemmes I, founder of the 12th Dynasty. 

The details of this coup d'etat are still incomplete, but it is 
obvious that there was widespread conflict and disorder and that 
the supporters of the legitimate' rulers of the 11th Dynasty opposed 
the usurper. Amenemmes I consciously adopted the title of 
'Repeater of Births', indicating his view of himself as an 
inaugurator of a new era, but his successors went to some lengths 
to ensure that they were regarded as legitimate successors to the 

Propagandist literature from Amenemmes I's own reign, or 
soon afterwards, is preserved for us in the so-called 'Prophecy 
of Neferty'. This work is known from later copies found on a 
papyrus, two writing-boards, and three ostraca, which date to 
the New Kingdom. It describes fictitious events by which it 
attempts to justify Amenemmes I's reign, and to win support for 
him by discrediting his predecessors. A lector-priest, Neferty of 
Bubastis, a supporter of the king, is supposed to have composed 
the piece. The work, however, is set in the reign of Sneferu, a 

28 The background 

revered king of the Old Kingdom, with Neferty as his 
contemporary. Brought to court, he is asked by the king to foretell 
the future. He prophesies that a great upheaval will come to pass 
in the eastern Delta, where Asiatic incursions will occur. It is 
implied that this picture represents the last years of the 11th 
Dynasty, although in fact this period was probably relatively 
peaceful. However, such conditions are doubtless described to 
justify the actions of Amenemmes I, who the prophecy now 
introduces, to found the 12th Dynasty and to bring salvation to 
the country. As a usurper, such literature probably assisted his 
cause and was aimed at making his coup more acceptable. The 
prophecy, however, also supplies some detail about his 

A King shall arise in the South, called Ameny, the son of a 
woman of Ta-Sti, born in Upper Egypt. He shall receive the 
White Crown and wear the Red Crown.... 

We know, therefore, that Amenemmes I was of non-royal birth; 
his father was a commoner, Sesostris, and his mother, Nefert, was 
a native of Elephantine, near the First Cataract. He was born in 
Upper Egypt. However, despite the inauspicious beginning of his 
reign, Amenemmes I succeeded in reorganising the country, and 
in inaugurating the second great and prosperous era of Egyptian 

The first two decades of his reign were taken up with the 
consolidation of his position. He had relied heavily upon the 
hereditary local governors (often referred to as 'nomarchs') to assist 
him in seizing the throne. Although they still posed a considerable 
threat to any ruler, as they had done in the Old Kingdom, 
Amenemmes I decided to foster their support. He restored to them 
many of their ancient dignities and privileges and installed new 
families of governors at Beni Hasan, Elephantine, Assiut, Cusae 
and elsewhere, to replace those who had disappeared under the 
11th Dynasty rulers who had tried to remove their power. However, 
Amenemmes set limits to their scheming, by firmly establishing 
the boundaries of their nomes (the ancient land divisions of Egypt), 
and restricting each district's supply of Nile water for irrigation. 
He could also demand the nomarchs to supply fleets of ships, 
levy troops, and to provide other supplies to support the king's 
campaigns in Egypt and abroad. Nevertheless, the problem posed 

The geography and historical background 29 

by these governors remained, and it was a direct descendant of 
this king who finally brought about a solution. 

Amenemmes I chose to move the capital city to a new area. The 
Uth Dynasty had ruled Egypt from Thebes, but this southern centre 
was far removed from Egypt's northern borders where problems 
were occurring, and Amenemmes set up his new capital some 18 
miles south of Memphis. Here, he built a fortified town called It- 
towy ('Seizer-of-the-Two-Lands'), as his Residence. In the 
twentieth year of his reign, he introduced the policy of co-regency, 
taking his son, Sesostris I, as his co-ruler. They ruled jointly for 
ten years, and this move, to ensure a smooth and peaceful 
succession in a dynasty which still felt unsure of its stability, was 
obviously wise. Indeed, the practice of co-regencies was followed 
by all the subsequent rulers of the 12th Dynasty. 

Literary sources indicate that Amenemmes I was assassinated. 
In the Instruction of King Amenemhet, a book preserved in the 
later writing exercises of schoolboys of the 19th Dynasty, the words 
of wisdom and instruction are put into the mouth of the dead 
king as he addresses his son and co-regent, Sesostris I. This is 
another example of propagandist literature, for its aim was 
primarily political, to exalt the achievements of Amenemmes I 
and to affirm his son's claim to rule. Apparently composed by a 
scribe, Achthoes, for Sesostris I, it recalls Amenemmes Fs own 
death at the hands of assassins who visit the palace in the night, 
while Sesostris is away fighting in Libya. Another literary account 
is given in the famous Middle Kingdom 'Story of Sinuhe'. Sinuhe 
tells how, as an official of the royal household, he returned from 
Libya with Sesostris I, after news of Amenemmes I's death. 
However, fearing civil war, Sinuhe deserts his royal master and 
flees to Syria where he spends many years in exile. Wishing, 
however, to return to die in Egypt, he finally sends a humble plea 
to Sesostris I to receive him again, and the king pardons him when 
he returns to It-towy. 

It was Amenemmes I who re-introduced the traditional royal 
burial within a pyramid complex, choosing a new site, near the 
modern village of el-Lisht, and here the king's pyramid was once 
again surrounded by the mastabas of his courtiers and officials, 
after the pattern of the Old Kingdom. 

The dynasty was now firmly established, and certain policies, 
especially relating to foreign affairs, can be determined. Egypt's 
relations with Nubia in the south had been pursued with some 

30 The background 

vigour in the Old Kingdom, because of her need to gain access to 
supplies of hard stone. In the intervening years, internal affairs 
had caused Egypt to cease activity there, and a new and more 
aggressive people, known as 'C-group', had now obtained a 
foothold in Lower Nubia. By the 12th Dynasty, there was an 
additional spur. Perhaps because the old workings in the Eastern 
Desert were exhausted, the need for Nubian gold became pressing, 
and the Egyptians now adopted a more aggressive policy towards 
the region. Indeed, from the Middle Kingdom onwards, Nubia 
became Egypt's main source of gold. 

Amenemmes I began the subjugation of Lower Nubia but it was 
Sesostris I who completed the conquest and military occupation 
of the region. Fortresses were now built along the river in the 
region, most of which have been identified and planned. These 
substantial brick structures were garrisoned by Egyptian troops, 
and some control was even exerted as far as the 3rd Cataract. 
However, constant vigilance was required, and during the peaceful 
years of Amenemmes II and Sesostris II, tribesmen again began to 
threaten the area between the First and Second Cataracts. Sesostris 
III therefore led a series of new campaigns and in his 8th year 
established a new southern boundary at Semna. Further fortresses 
were founded or extensively rebuilt, and dispatches between their 
commandants, dating to the reign of Amenemmes III, have 
provided a vivid picture of the life which developed in these 

The lands to the north of Egypt seem to have received different 
treatment. Here, the main aim was to defend Egypt's boundaries. 
Amenemmes I is known to have built walls to repel the Asiatic 
incursions on the north-eastern frontier, although their exact 
location is uncertain. It seems that at this time Syria and Palestine 
were comprised of a number of minor states, ruled by princelings. 
Egypt apparently maintained diplomatic relations with these 
rulers, and indeed, there is evidence of perhaps considerable trade 
and contact between the two areas. Merchants and couriers from 
Egypt and Byblos (on the coast of Syria/Palestine) passed between 
the two lands, and several objects of Egyptian design have been 
found in Syria. Amongst these were a collar bearing the cartouche 
of Sesostris I which was found at Ras Shamra (Ugarit), and there 
is abundant evidence of contact in the reign of his son and 
successor, Amenemmes II. At Ras Shamra in Syria, a statuette of a 
daughter of Amenemmes II was found, as well as part of a figure 

The geography and historical background 31 

of the vizier Senwosretankh; a sphinx with the name of another 
of his daughters was discovered at Katna, north of Horns. At 
Megiddo, there were four fragmentary statuettes of Thuthotep, a 
nomarch of Hermopolis, while Byblos, which had enjoyed close 
relations with Egypt from early times, in the Middle Kingdom 
was governed by local rulers who adopted the Egyptian title of 
'prince', and wrote their names in hieroglyphs. They also wore 
Egyptian jewellery, and possessed other objects which were 
Egyptian in style and often in manufacture. 

However, one of the most spectacular finds which may date to 
the 12th Dynasty was the rich treasure found in the foundations 
of the Temple of Montu at Tod in Upper Egypt. It consisted of four 
copper caskets inscribed with the name of Amenemmes II. These 
contained ingots of gold and silver, silver vessels, amulets of lapis 
lazuli and cylinder seals. At least one vessel was of the Aegean 
type, and other items were of Mesopotamian origin. It is believed 
that this treasure may represent either a gift or tribute to the 
Egyptian king from a Syrian ruler. 

Egypt also had contacts with Crete and other areas of the Aegean; 
some Egyptian objects have been discovered in Crete, and the 
polychrome decorated pottery of Cretan manufacture, known as 
'Kamares Ware', has turned up at various sites in Egypt, including 
Kahun. A particularly striking example of this ware was found at 

Other sources which suggest considerable links between Egypt 
and her northern neighbours include stelae and papyri in which 
Asiatic slaves are mentioned as being present in Egypt during the 
12th and 13th Dynasties. Two series of Execration Texts from the 
reign of Sesostris III and the succeeding years also leave little 
doubt that the Egyptians had a detailed knowledge of the princes 
of Syria and Palestine in the 12th Dynasty. It was believed that if 
the names of the king's potential and known enemies were thus 
written on sherds and ceremonially smashed, they would, by 
means of sympathetic magic, be rendered harmless, and these Texts 
give lists of names of foreign princes. 

Altogether, there can be little doubt that, in the Middle Kingdom, 
Egypt had continuous contact with these areas, and that numbers 
of foreigners came to reside in Egypt, although whether they 
arrived of their own accord or came as prisoners-of-war is unclear. 
This background of foreign influence will play an important part 
when the population and workforce at Kahun are considered. It 

32 The background 

can, however, be claimed that the rulers of the 12th Dynasty were 
considerably more aware of the need to deal with their neighbours 
than any previous Egyptian kings. Not only were the links with 
the northern area established, but trading expeditions were sent 
to Punt on the Red Sea coast (probably present-day Somalia), to 
bring back incense trees for use in temple and funerary rituals, 
and working parties were sent to the turquoise mines at Serabit 
al-Khadim in Sinai where their labour was augmented by that of 
the local inhabitants. Their camp-sites were transformed into 
permanent settlements, fortified against the Beduin raiders, and 
housed officials as well as workmen. Here, also, the Egyptian 
goddess Hathor, 'Mistress of Turquoise', was worshipped with a 
special cult. 

Thus, the rulers developed wise foreign policies, and ensured 
access to raw materials which were increasingly required for the 
fine works of art which the craftsmen produced. Before considering 
these, we should, however, return briefly to the domestic policies 
of the kings which laid the foundations for an era of prosperity. 
Sesostris III perhaps contributed most to the internal security of 
the country, when, by methods which are still unknown to us, he 
brought to an end the privileges and power of the hereditary 
nomarchs, reduced them forever to the status of local nonentities, 
and ensured that the great provincial tombs were never built again. 
He thus removed one of the greatest threats to the position of the 
king, and consequently, to the stability of the country. The 
provinces of Lower Egypt, Middle Egypt and Upper Egypt were 
now administered from It-towy by three separate departments of 
central government which came under the overall supervision of 
the vizier (prime minister) who was himself responsible to the 
king. With the disappearance of the nobility, a new middle class 
emerged, made up of craftsmen, tradesmen and small farmers, 
who felt a debt of allegiance to the king. In the reign of Amenemmes 
III, the prosperity of the 12th Dynasty reached its peak; both 
internal and external threats had been brought under control and 
by his death, Egypt had become a renowned world power. 
However, his co-regent, Amenemmes IV, succeeded to the throne 
as an old man, and was soon replaced by the last ruler of the 
dynasty, a queen regnant, Sebekneferu, who was probably the 
daughter of Amenemmes III, and sister of Amenemmes IV. Her 
accession as ruler was probably due to the lack of a male heir, and 
her short reign marked the end of the dynasty. 

The geography and historical background 33 

The Middle Kingdom saw major developments in art and 
architecture, in religious and funerary beliefs and in literature. 
The kings of the 12th Dynasty once again established the 
supremacy of a state cult. This had existed in the Old Kingdom, 
exemplified by the cult of the solar deity, Re c , but in the First 
Intermediate Period, political upheaval and decentralisation had 
led to a reversion to the worship of many local deities. This 
resembled the situation in the Predynastic Period, when 
communities had worshipped many tribal gods. However, the 
Mentuhoteps of the 11th Dynasty introduced a new state-god, 
Montu, the god of war, who came originally from Hermonthis, 
and now the 12th Dynasty rulers re-established a unifying, 
centralised cult. Not wishing to associate themselves with Re c , 
the patron of kings in the Old Kingdom, they promoted Amun, 
who had previously appeared in one of the Old Kingdom creation 
myths as a member of the Ogdoad (group of eight gods) at 
Hermopolis. However, at some time in the First Intermediate 
Period, his cult had been established at Thebes, where he became 
associated with Min, a local fertility god, represented as an 
ithyphallic male. To establish his right to supremacy, the kings 
now also associated him with Re c , and built him a great temple at 
Karnak, Thebes, where he acquired a consort. She was the vulture- 
headed goddess Mut, and their son was the falcon-headed lunar 
god, Khonsu. Amun was generally represented in human form, 
wearing a tall, plumed headdress, and the animal specially 
associated with his cult was the ram. The original concept of his 
role as a god of the air developed into the idea that he was the 
king of all the gods, and the creator of the universe. By the New 
Kingdom, as Amen-Re c , he would become the great state god of 
the Egyptian Empire, with universal creative powers, features 
which paved the way for the later solar monotheistic cult of the 
Aten at the end of the 18th Dynasty. However, Amun's first 
elevation as a royal patron was due to the 12th Dynasty kings. 

Whereas Amun reigned supreme in the world of the living during 
the Middle Kingdom, for comfort and support in death, the 
Egyptians turned increasingly to Osiris. Originally a god of 
vegetation, Osiris soon took on the role of king and judge of the 
underworld, associating his powers as a regenerative force of nature 
with an ability to promise his followers a chance of individual 
eternity. He had been worshipped during the Old Kingdom, but 
then his importance had centred around his ability to ensure the 

34 The background 

king's resurrection and safe passage to the next world. The 
mythology of Heliopolis, the centre of the sun cult, had dominated 
the Old Kingdom, and the king, as Re c 's son, had hoped to achieve 
a solar hereafter, sailing with the sun and other gods in the sacred 
barque across the heavens. However, the mythology of Osiris 
promised an additional assurance of this eternity. According to the 
myth, which is preserved in a complete form only in the much 
later account of the Classical writer, Plutarch, Osiris was originally 
a human king who brought civilisation and agricultural knowledge 
to the Egyptians. The envy of his brother Seth caused Seth to murder 
Osiris, but Isis, devoted wife of Osiris, gathered together Osiris' 
dismembered body, and by her magical skills, reunited his limbs. 
Posthumously, she conceived Osiris' son, Horus, whom she reared 
in the Delta marshes, away from the hatred of Seth. When he was 
grown, Horus wished to avenge his father's death, and fought Seth 
in a vicious and bloody conflict. Their dispute was brought before 
the tribunal of divine judges, and the gods found in favour of Osiris 
and Horus. Osiris was declared 'pure' or 'justified' and was 
resurrected as a god and king, not of the living, but of the dead in 
the underworld, while Horus became king of the living. Seth, the 
embodiment of evil, was banished. Every living king of Egypt was 
therefore regarded as an incarnation of Horus, and at death, was 
believed to become Osiris. 

Gradually, with the fall of the Old Kingdom, and the rise of the 
great provincial nobles, the funerary rites and privileges originally 
reserved exclusively for the king to ensure his individual 
resurrection were sought by the nobles. A democratisation of the 
afterlife was brought about, and increasingly, the tombs, coffins, 
spells and other royal funerary paraphernalia were taken over at 
first by the nobility, and then by all Egyptians who could afford 
them. The Pyramid Texts, magical spells based on solar and Osirian 
beliefs, had been inscribed on the internal walls of some of the 
later Old Kingdom pyramids, to protect the king on his last journey, 
and to ensure his safe passage into the afterlife. These texts were 
now amended, and in the First Intermediate Period and the Middle 
Kingdom, were painted on coffins to provide the same protection 
for non-royal individuals. As such, we know them as 'Coffin Texts', 
and they were later developed into the 'Book of the Dead' which 
was used in the New Kingdom. The cult of Osiris was central to 
this democratisation of funerary beliefs and the afterlife, and the 
12th Dynasty kings encouraged the god's worship at the expense 

The geography and historical background 35 

of Re c , supreme deity of their predecessors. Osiris came to have 
an almost universal appeal, promising eternity to all those, rich 
or poor, who fulfilled the requirements — to have led a blameless 
life and to be a follower of his cult. Any man or woman who, at 
death, satisfactorily faced the mythical Day of Judgement (when 
an individual was judged by the gods according to his good or 
evil deeds in this world) could expect to pass on to the Osirian 
netherworld. This was believed to be situated on islands in the 
west, below the horizon, where there was eternal springtime; here 
all were equal, receiving identical plots of land to till throughout 
eternity. Pleasing as this idea was to the humbler worshippers, 
the wealthier sought to bring additional comfort to their hereafter, 
and equipped their tombs with increasingly fine funerary goods 
and models of brewers, bakers, and craftsmen, which it was 
believed would be magically 'brought to life' to work for the 
deceased. These people hoped to spend at least part of their 
eternity in the comfortable surroundings of their tombs. 
Nevertheless, every man at death could now expect to become an 
'Osiris' and to experience an individual resurrection. 

The appeal of this cult was far-reaching, and many people made 
annual pilgrimages to the god's cult centre at Abydos, instead of 
to the old religious city at Heliopolis. Here, they would participate 
in the great annual festival of the god which coincided with the 
renewal of the vegetation after the inundation. The wealthier tried 
to be buried at Abydos, or to have their mummies transported 
there and then returned to their own locality for burial. Any 
association with Osiris, and with Abydos, the supposed place of 
his own burial, was believed to confer blessedness and an 
increased assurance of resurrection. Therefore the two great gods 
of the Middle Kingdom were Amun and Osiris. The fact that the 
12th Dynasty rulers returned north to establish their capital at It- 
towy, and revived the Old Kingdom custom of royal burials in 
pyramids (originally a practice symbolic of the solar cult), in no 
way undermined the power of these two gods, for these were 
merely political moves. 

However, other gods also achieved importance in the 12th 
and 13th Dynasties. In particular, the crocodile god Sobek 
became a patron of the kings and was associated with both 
Osiris and with Re c , and was sometimes known as Sobek-Re c . 
He was resident in the Fayoum and had temples there at Shedet 
(Crocodilopolis) and Dja (Medinet el-Ma c adi), but the cult was 

36 The background 

widely established at centres from the Delta to the 1st Cataract. 
He was a deity of water and vegetation, and was worshipped 
sometimes with Renenutet, the cobra-goddess. The kings' 
interest in developing the Fayoum undoubtedly influenced 
their promotion of his cult. 

Religion permeated almost every aspect of life in ancient Egypt, 
and the influence of these new beliefs can be seen in the art, 
architecture and literature of this period. During the Old 
Kingdom, a distinctive school of art had grown up at Memphis. 
Craftsmen were attracted to the capital by the need for sculptors, 
carpenters, goldsmiths, and other skilled workers to produce fine 
artefacts, particularly for the tombs. The Memphite school 
developed a style of tomb decoration and certain types of statuary 
and other funerary goods which formed the basis for all future 
funerary art in Egypt. However, with the collapse of the Old 
Kingdom, and the decline of Memphis as a centre, during the 
First Intermediate Period there was a growth of provincial schools 
of painting and sculpture. These still followed the traditional 
principles of Memphis, but developed their own peculiarities. 
With the democratisation of funerary beliefs, many more people 
now required burial goods and there was an increased demand 
for the craftsmen's skills. In the First Intermediate Period, their 
work is most evident in the painted wooden coffins and small 
wooden statuettes and models found in non-royal tombs. 
However, the political situation is reflected in the paucity of 
royal monuments or large statuary. The sophistication of the 
Memphite school was replaced, in these provincial paintings 
and sculptures, with a fresh, spontaneous and naive approach; 
the figures have an angularity and a crude vigour, while great 
attention is given to detail. 

With the re-establishment of some kind of central power with 
the emergence of the 11th Dynasty rulers at Thebes, we see the 
development of a distinctive southern style of art at Thebes. 
This preserved many of the characteristics of the earlier 
provincial art forms, but added considerable advances in 
technical skills, and it became the basis on which all Middle 
Kingdom art was founded. When Amenemmes I moved his 
capital north, he brought with him the best of the Theban artists. 
Contact with the old Memphite tomb sculptures and paintings 
now had a marked effect on them which can be seen in the 
quality of work produced in the 12th Dynasty. The major 

The geography and historical background 37 

building projects, to which we shall return, are the pyramids, 
but the other surviving monuments also indicate the elegance 
of the period. A solitary obelisk remains of Sesostris I's once- 
magnificent temple at Heliopolis, but an early example of a 
cultus temple survives at Medinet el-Ma c adi in the Fayoum. It 
is also apparent that these kings added to existing structures, 
and generally promoted building projects. One of the most 
exquisite monuments of the age is the small jubilee chapel of 
Sesostris I which has now been reassembled; its blocks had 
been used in the later construction of the 3rd pylon in Amun's 
temple at Karnak. At Hawara in the Fayoum Amenemmes III 
built his fabled 'Labyrinth' which was greatly admired and 
described variously by travellers as a labyrinth, a palace, a 
temple and an administrative centre. Its exact purpose is still 
uncertain, although it probably combined all these functions. 
In the 12th Dynasty tombs, as well as on the coffins, the artists 
expressed their skills in lively wall paintings, and colourful 
decoration. Some of the best examples were found in the tombs 
at Beni Hasan and at Bersheh, in Middle Egypt. 

However, it was perhaps in the smaller items that the Middle 
Kingdom craftsmen excelled. Most important are the realistic royal 
sculptures, which show the artist's ability to master his materials 
and to combine the realism of the Theban school with the older 
Memphite traditions. The portrait heads of Amenemmes III which 
have survived are particularly fine. These skills were also applied 
to the production of large numbers of private, or non-royal, 
statuettes which were placed either in tombs, or as votive figures 
in temples. For this, a particular type of statue, known as a 'block- 
statue', was developed. In another field, excellence was also 
achieved — Middle Kingdom jewellery was never surpassed in 
other periods, and demonstrates the standards of technical ability 
which had now been reached. 

With regard to non-religious architecture, we shall see how 
towns and houses were designed and constructed at Kahun. 
Elsewhere, in Nubia, great brick military fortresses were erected 
to subdue the local population. 

Although the Middle Kingdom was a time of excellence in art, 
it is generally remembered for its major contribution to the 
literature of Egypt. The troubles of the First Intermediate Period 
had forced the Egyptians to reconsider their accepted values, and 
this self-questioning ultimately led to the literary flourishing of 

38 The background 

the Middle Kingdom. It is evident that the Egyptians themselves 
regarded this as a 'golden age', for the language used in the 
compositions, known today as 'Middle Egyptian', was later 
regarded as its classical stage. Middle Kingdom literary texts were 
copied by later generations of schoolboys as exercises not only in 
composition but also in the use of their language. Indeed, most of 
the Middle Kingdom literature has only survived in these later 
model compositions, preserved on papyri, writing boards and 
ostraca (sherds used for writing). 

The works include wisdom teachings, which were probably 
first introduced in the Old Kingdom. These sought to instruct 
young men in the attitudes and skills necessary to live in that 
society — although some, such as the Instruction of King 
Amenemmes I, were composed to strengthen the dynastic 
succession. Even the stories of this era often incorporate a moral 
or propagandist message, such as the famous 'Story of Sinuhe', 
where the king's benevolence is stressed. The so-called 
'Pessimistic Literature' of this period incorporates elements of 
history from the earlier periods, and reflects the total 
disillusionment which followed the collapse of the Old Kingdom. 
Important examples of this genre include the 'Admonitions of a 
Prophet', 'The Prophecy of Neferty' and 'The Dispute with his 
Soul of One who is Tired of Life'. 

Other religious writings illustrate the development of the 
concept of 'sacred drama'. Some were designed for special 
occasions, such as the 'Memphite Drama', and the 'Coronation 
Drama', used for the coronation of Sesostris I. Others took the 
form of 'Mystery Plays' which were enacted at the great seasonal 
religious festivals. Details of one of these are given in an inscription 
on a stela belonging to a man named Ikhernofret. He was an official 
who was sent to Abydos to oversee the refurbishment of the temple, 
and he describes how he participated in a 'Mystery Play' which 
was held annually at Abydos, re-enacting events in the life, death 
and resurrection of Osiris. 

Many of the technical treatises, composed before or during the 
Middle Kingdom, have also come down to us, although they are 
mainly preserved on later papyri. The medical papyri, including 
the famous Kahun gynaecological papyrus, will be considered 
later, together with the legal and business documents, the temple 
journals, the fragmentary mathematical and veterinary papyri and 
the hymn to Sesostris III, which were all found at Kahun. 

The geography and historical background 39 

Two of the most important undertakings of the 12th Dynasty 
kings were their renewal of pyramid-building and the development 
of a major land reclamation project in the Fayoum. It was these 
schemes which provided the background and raison d'etre for 
the town of Kahun, and they will now be considered. 


The Lahun Pyramid 

Scattered across the great plateau of the Libyan desert, which rises 
91-121 m above sea level, are the Egyptian oases. The first of these, 
usually considered to be part of the Nile Valley, takes the shape of 
an oval basin on the west of the valley and is surrounded by the 
Libyan hills. It lies some 64 km south of the old capital of Memphis, 
and today is known as the province of Fayoum. In antiquity, it 
was praised for its scenery, its fertility, and its cultivation, for it 
had an abundance of trees and plants. In Classical times, Strabo 
noted that richly productive olive trees grew there. The cause of 
this fertility was two-fold; first a number of springs of water fed 
the oasis and secondly, the Bahr Yusef, an arm of the Nile, flows 
into the Fayoum basin from the south-east through a narrow 
opening in the desert hills, near Lahun. It then branches out into 
numerous channels, providing abundant water for the area. The 
Bahr Yusef also feeds the great lake of the oasis which was of 
such importance in antiquity. 

Known today as the Birket el-Qarun, the lake is now much 
smaller than it was in antiquity and there has been controversy 
over the original exact extent and position of the lake. It has 
been argued that in the remote past the lake occupied almost the 
entire Fayoum basin, but that in historical times it began to 
shrink. It seems that by the 12th Dynasty, the lake lay 2 metres 
below sea level. 

A triangle of fertile land, deposited by the silt brought down by 
the Bahr Yusef, gradually built up in the middle of the lake. Here, 
probably protected by embankments against the inundation, the 
town of Shedet (Crocodilopolis) was built. As early as the Old 
Kingdom, this became a cult-centre of the crocodile god, Sobek. 
However, it was the 12th Dynasty rulers, seeking to enlarge the 


The Lahun pyramid 41 

inhabitable and cultivable land area, who initiated major land 
reclamation projects here. By artificially reducing and regulating 
the inflow of water to the Fayoum basin, a natural rapid evaporation 
of the lake surface would have been achieved with the result that 
additional land was made available. This land was then protected 
from re-flooding by a system of dykes and drainage canals. Sesostris 
II was probably the first king to concern himself with this project 
and ordered the construction of a barrage across the mouth of the 
Hawara Channel, near Lahun. However, it was his successor, 
Amenemmes III, who completed the reclamation, gaining more than 
17,000 acres of additional land around Crocodilopolis (the modern 
Medinet el-Fayoum). He enclosed this land within a vast semi- 
circular embankment. Indeed, Classical writers credit him with the 
creation of Lake Moeris, to accommodate the superfluous water so 
that the land would not be flooded by the rising water level of the 
river. However, this is almost certainly an exaggeration of his project, 
although his major works in the Fayoum were significant. In the 
Ptolemaic period, chiefly under Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the area 
of the lake was further reduced by means of embankments to 
approximately its present size, and the land thus reclaimed for 
agricultural purposes was successfully used. 

Fishing and hunting were always favourite royal pastimes, and 
the area was noted for its ample supply offish and game. In a later 
period, the Greek writer Herodotus [The Histories, Bk II, 49) 
mentions the large annual produce of the lake: 

During six months, the water of the river flows into it, and 
during the remaining half of the year, it returns from the 
lake into the Nile. At this time, while the water is retiring, 
the profits derived from the fisheries, and paid daily into 
the royal treasuries, amount to a talent of silver. 

Another Classical writer, Diodorus (Bk I, 52), also enthuses about 
the lake: 

They say that twenty-two kinds of fish are found in it, and 
so large a number is caught that the numerous salters who 
are constantly employed there can with difficulty get 
through the work imposed on them. 

Even today the fish from the lake, although of the same species as 

42 The background 

Nile fish, are said to be superior in flavour to them, and fishing is 
still a major occupation here. 

It is therefore not surprising that the kings of the Middle 
Kingdom chose to establish a residence in the area, and to set up 
a harem at Lahun where the king could stay when hunting in the 
area. Later, in the New Kingdom, the kings continued to frequent 
the Fayoum, but a new harem had by then been established at 

Greek travellers and geographers later gave the lake the name 
of 'Lake Moeris', which was assumed to be derived from the 
Egyptian 'Mi-wer' but this name has itself been the subject of 
scholarly debate. It was thought that perhaps 'Mi-wer' was the 
name of a branch of the Bahr Yusef, the canal that fed the lake. 
However, archaeological and literary evidence have shown that 
Mi-wer was actually most used as the name of the town known 
today as Gurob; this was in fact probably derived from the nearby 
stretch of the Bahr Yusef, similarly named. The ancient Egyptian 
name for the lake seems to have been 'The Lake of Mi-wer' (Ta- 
henet en Merwer), and not 'Mi-wer'. 

Therefore, royal recognition and a favourable environment soon 
led to the establishment and development of some major towns 
in the area. Every king had several harems or residences scattered 
around Egypt and these were major institutions, possessing fields 
and herds and employing many people. The ladies of each harem, 
who presumably lived permanently at these residences, were 
placed in the charge of an 'Overseer of the Harem'. A harem town 
quickly grew up around the Residence, to supply the needs of the 
Court. These were always busy places, and the harem itself was a 
centre of industrious activity. 

A scrap of papyrus from Gurob mentions garments or cloth 
which were owned by or destined for a foreign princess who 
was to marry Harnesses II, a later king of the 19th Dynasty. 
Fragmentary documentary evidence also suggests that here the 
harem ladies were either personally occupied with spinning or 
weaving, or were expected to train others, sometimes foreign 
slaves, who had perhaps previously worked as ordinary servants 
in well-to-do houses. The manufacture of textiles seems to have 
been continued in the area for thousands of years, for when the 
anthropologist, Miss W.S.Blackman, stayed for three months in 
1924 at the modern village of Lahun, weaving was still the chief 
local industry. 

The Lahun pyramid 43 

It was here at Lahun, overlooking the mouth of the channel 
leading from the Nile Valley into the Fayoum, where Sesostris II 
had doubtless spent some of his happiest hours, that he chose to 
be buried, in the manner of the 12th Dynasty rulers, in a traditional 

The pyramid complex had been developed by the rulers of the 
Old Kingdom as the customary burial place for kings, and it 
appeared in its earliest form as the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. From 
this design, perhaps intended to represent a ramp or 'stairway' to 
enable the deceased ruler to ascend and to join the gods in the 
sky, the Egyptians developed the true pyramid form, best 
exemplified by the famous three pyramids of Cheops, Chephren 
and Mycerinus at Giza. The true pyramid may be an attempt to 
represent in stone the form and appearance of a sun's ray and 
again to provide the king, whose body rested within the pyramid, 
with a means of access to the sky. There are various indications 
that the development of the true pyramid was closely associated 
with the increased importance of the Solar cult, centred around 
the worship of Re c , the Sun-god. This cult, particularly linked to 
the kingship in the Old Kingdom, promoted the belief of the king's 
divinity as the Sun-god's son. It was envisaged that the king upon 
death would join Re c in his barque, journeying across the skies, 
and that he therefore needed a means of ascent. However, he was 
also believed to descend to re-occupy his mummified body which 
was placed in the pyramid, and to partake of the essence of the 
food offerings presented to the dead king through the medium of 
his mortuary ritual. 

The pyramid itself was only one element in a complex of 
buildings, designed to ensure the king's resurrection and the 
continuation of his power as a ruler in the hereafter. In the Old 
Kingdom it was believed that the king alone enjoyed an individual 
afterlife, and all his subjects experienced eternity only through 
him. Later, in the Middle Kingdom, when a process of 
democratisation occurred in funerary and religious beliefs, every 
individual might expect a chance of eternity. The idea of a pyramid 
had been fully developed by the early 4th Dynasty, and indeed 
the second pyramid at Giza, built for Chephren, is the best- 
preserved example of this type which later became the standard 
layout. It consisted of a Valley Building, a covered Causeway, a 
Mortuary Temple, and the pyramid itself. 

The pyramids were built on the edge of the desert and each 

44 The background 

Valley Building, situated on the river bank, was the place where 
the funerary goods, the king's body, and later, the ritual food 
offerings were first received. According to one theory, the actual 
mummification of the king's body was carried out here. From the 
Valley Building, a covered causeway led across the cultivation to 
the Mortuary Temple which adjoined the pyramid. The Causeway 
was used to transport the king's funerary procession and his body 
from the river to the burial place within the pyramid. Since it was 
covered by a roof, the body was protected from the gaze of all 
onlookers except the chosen priests and members of the royal 
family and entourage. In the Mortuary Temple, the final funerary 
rituals were performed, including the ceremony of 'Opening of 
the Mouth', in which rites performed on the king's mummified 
body and funerary statues were believed to restore them to life. 
Here, in the Mortuary Temple, after the king was buried in a special 
chamber in the pyramid, the priests continued to perform daily 
rituals to ensure an eternal supply of food and strength for the 
deceased ruler. 

Around each royal pyramid complex, there grew up a large 
number of other buildings — the mastaba tombs belonging to the 
king's family and courtiers, and the dwellings of the necropolis 
officials and workmen. All the subsidiary tombs had to be 
provisioned and the priests who attended to them had to be paid, 
an expense borne by the king as a mark of esteem for his favoured 
courtiers and officials. Thus, in addition to building and equipping 
and provisioning his own pyramid and funerary priesthood, each 
king had continuing obligations to the pyramid complexes and 
priesthoods of previous rulers, and to the courtiers and their tombs. 
After a few generations, this became an onerous burden, and the 
depletion of royal resources as a result of pyramid-building was 
one of the main reasons for the eventual decline and disintegration 
of centralised power at the end of the Old Kingdom. The gradual 
but steady loss of economic power is reflected in the material 
structures of the later pyramids of the 5th and 6th Dynasties when 
a core of rubble now replaced the original stone construction inside 
the pyramid. 

During the 1st Intermediate Period, pyramid-building 
disappeared, although Mentuhotep of the 11th Dynasty erected a 
unique structure at Thebes which incorporated a pyramid. 
Amenemmes I, however, returned to the north and re-introduced 
the traditional pyramid complex based on the Old Kingdom 

The Lahun pyramid 45 

design. He chose a site at Lisht, near his new capital of It-towy, as 
his burial place. It had the main features of a standard pyramid 
complex, but it was built on rising ground, with the buildings on 
two different levels. The pyramid was situated on the upper 
terrace, surrounded by a stone wall, whereas the Mortuary Temple 
stood on the lower terrace, to the east of the pyramid. Another 
feature of earlier pyramid burials had also returned. The tombs of 
courtiers once again clustered around the king's pyramid, some 
to the north and south of the Mortuary Temple, and others — about 
100 belonging to nobles and officials — outside a rectangular brick 
wall which enclosed the main complex. 

Sesostris I followed this revival and constructed a pyramid about 
1.61 km to the south of Amenemmes I's complex. Amenemmes II 
built a similar pyramid at Dahshur (where a remarkable discovery 
of jewellery has been made; this belonged to the royal princesses). 
Sesostris II built his pyramid at Lahun, just north of the place 
where the Bahr Yusef turns westward to enter the Fayoum oasis. 
Here, Petrie also made a major discovery of royal jewellery. 
Successive rulers, Sesostris III and Amenemmes III, built pyramids 
at Dahshur. The archaeologist De Morgan also found splendid 
jewellery in the shaft tombs within the enclosure walls of these 
pyramids. Amenemmes III, famed for his irrigation and land 
reclamation schemes in the Fayoum, built a second pyramid at 
Hawara, which was probably intended as an elaborate replacement 
for the Dahshur pyramid. At Hawara, the Mortuary Temple was 
the famous 'Labyrinth' which was described in the writings of 
Herodotus, Strabo and Diodorus Siculus. 

For Amenemmes IV and Sebekneferu, last rulers of the 12th 
Dynasty, there is no literary evidence of pyramids, but two ruined 
pyramids which were discovered at Mazghuna in 1910-11, some 
4.83 km to the south of Dahshur, have been tentatively assigned 
to them, since the structures bear a close resemblance to the 
pyramid of Amenemmes III at Hawara. 

During the 1 3th Dynasty, royal funerary monuments are more 
rare, but the ruined remains of a number of pyramids indicate 
that this form of burial was still used. By the New Kingdom, 
following the troubled years of Hyksos domination in the 2nd 
Intermediate Period, pyramid-building was abandoned, after the 
reign of the early 18th Dynasty king, Amosis I. Thereafter, in the 
New Kingdom, the kings elected to be buried in rock-cut tombs in 
the Valley of the Kings at Thebes. 

46 The background 

The 12th Dynasty rulers sought to make their pyramids 
impregnable. Generally, their pyramids at Lisht, Dahshur, Lahun 
and Hawara followed the Old Kingdom type of construction, but 
they were smaller and of an inferior construction. Only 
Amenemmes I built his pyramid entirely of stone. The others 
resembled the later constructions of the Old Kingdom, with either 
a core of rubble-filled cellular construction, or of mud-brick. They 
were all cased with limestone, and an extensive cemetery of 
mastaba and pit tombs for the families and courtiers of each king 
surrounded each pyramid. 

The pyramid of Sesostris II at Lahun can be regarded as 
innovatory in several respects, in terms of general pyramid 
development in the 12th Dynasty. The normal entrance position 
for a pyramid had previously been on the north side, so that the 
entrance corridor was orientated towards the circumpolar stars. 
However, this fact was so well known that it greatly facilitated 
tomb robbery. Therefore, more influenced by the need for increased 
security than by traditional beliefs, Sesostris II' s architect moved 
the entrance outside his pyramid. Petrie searched for the entrance 
for several months in 1887-8, and finally located a shaft to the 
south of the pyramid which descended vertically to a passage 
which had been tunnelled 40 feet below ground. This eventually 
led to a granite burial chamber in the interior of the pyramid. 
However, the burial had been plundered in antiquity, and only 
the red granite sarcophagus and an alabaster offering table 
remained. There were also differences in the superstructure, and 
this pyramid strongly influenced the pyramids of Sesostris III and 
Amenemmes III at Dahshur, where brick was again used for the 
inner core of the superstructure, and a maze of chambers and 
corridors was incorporated in the superstructure to confuse the 
robbers. Also, the innovation of placing the entrance to the 
pyramid not on the northern side, but elsewhere outside the 
pyramid, was retained. 

Petrie's work at the pyramid of Sesostris II at Lahun began on 6 
December 1913. Previous work in 1889-90 had revealed that 
Sesostris II was the builder, and had disclosed that the pyramid 
entrance lay on the south-east. Petrie therefore decided that he 
would make a thorough study of the site, searching every foot of 
the rock surface within the pyramid enclosure wall for possible 
royal tombs, as well as planning the pyramid and all its 
surrounding constructions. The clearing of the site lasted until 

The Lahun pyramid 47 

March 1914. Originally, the site of the pyramid had been a rocky 
slope. The core of the pyramid was cut out from this solid rock, 
rising about 12.19 m from the ground. Above this natural rock 
mass, a framework of retaining walls was built of mud-bricks. In 
the lower part was a gridiron of massive walls of limestone to 
give firm support to the stone casing and to prevent its being 
shifted by settlement of the brickwork. This core was cased with 
fine limestone blocks, and the lowest were embedded in the 
natural rock, so that the structure could be secured. The external 
structure of the pyramid is therefore unlike any other in Egypt. 

The base of the pyramid was surrounded on all sides by a 
shallow sand-filled trench which was intended to absorb the rain- 
water flowing off the face of the pyramid. Indeed, the nature of 
the site led the architect to take various precautions against 
subsidence. Despite the knoll of hard limestone, the pyramid 
rested at the southland west on marl which could easily turn into 
mud, and therefore several features were incorporated to absorb 
the heaviest downpour. This trench was encompassed by a stone 
wall, outside which was a thick brick wall. Beyond this, a single 
line of trees had been planted in circular pits sunk in the rock and 
filled with soil. There were 42 on the south, 42 on the east and 12 
on the west, perhaps planted by the 42 nomes or geographical 
divisions of Egypt. Examination of the roots did not enable an 
identification of the trees to be made. Between the stone and brick 
enclosure walls, on the south side of the pyramid, four shaft tombs 
were discovered, belonging to members of the royal family. In 
one of these, Petrie found the magnficent jewellery belonging to 
Princess Sit-Hathor-Iunut, placed originally in three ebony caskets, 
and now in museums in New York and Cairo. 

One of Petrie 's main aims at Lahun was to discover the entrance 
to the pyramid. He found that much ancient tunnelling had been 
carried out in search of chambers, but success eluded him, until 
finally he uncovered a possible entrance. This led ultimately, by 
a devious route, to a burial chamber lined with fine white 
limestone. A light red granite sarcophagus, unique in form, was 
also discovered there, of which he says, it was '...perhaps the 
finest piece of mechanical work ever executed in such a hard and 
difficult material'. In front of the sarcophagus lay a white alabaster 
offering table of the usual 12th Dynasty style. There was also some 
broken pottery and bones from the funerary offerings, but 
everything else had been plundered and removed. 

48 The background 

Outside the pyramid, other discoveries were made. Several 
pits cut into the rock contained foundation deposits, including 
pottery, model mud-bricks, beads, and the bones of a sacrificial 
animal. On the north side of the southern sand trench which 
ran around the pyramid, a plain wooden box was found inside 
a rectangular pit. This contained the bones of a child of less 
than 5 months of age, sealed with the official seal of the Treasury 
and therefore not a chance burial. Petrie was led to speculate 
about the origin of this burial and whether it represented a 
foundation sacrifice. 

To the east side of the pyramid were the remains of the pyramid 
temple, from which many blocks were recovered. It had been 
adorned with lintels and jambs of red granite, carved with 
hieroglyphs coloured in green. Here, also, two foundation deposits 
were found, consisting simply of several little pottery saucers laid 
in the sand. Many pieces of sculpture were recovered, some 
bearing the names of Sesostris II and others showing some of the 
offerings. The fine workmanship which was evident in these pieces 
indicated the original quality of the work, before the building was 
destroyed by the workmen of the 19th Dynasty king, Ramesses II, 
who stripped the complex for building stone to use in nearby 
Ramesside constructions. 

Petrie also discovered other associated buildings outside the 
complex of Sesostris II. These included, on the north-east, a lesser 
pyramid which probably belonged to a queen. Petrie believed that 
the queen who may have owned the pyramid had also been 
worshipped in the temple at Kahun. However, he sought in vain 
for its concealed entrance. 

Along the north side, Petrie discovered eight rock mastabas in 
1888 and 1914, but no burial was found in them although they 
were evidently intended for royalty. Just outside the northern brick 
wall, he uncovered a fine tomb — No. 621 — which was obviously 
intended for a senior royal person. It was probably built for a queen 
and was prepared for use, although the interment was never made. 
A fine red granite sarcophagus, a canopic chest to contain the jars 
holding the queen's eviscerated organs, and a large quantity of 
12th Dynasty pottery comprised the total finds in this tomb. 

An extensive re-examination of the debris in the pyramid 
chambers and in the vicinity of the complex revealed further 
artefacts. From the king's pyramid came the uraeus from his 
crown, made of solid gold and inlaid with lapis lazuli and garnet. 

The Lahun pyramid 49 

Beads were also found, and a few human bones of an adult male, 
perhaps belonging to the king himself. Pottery and lamps were 
also discovered. In the sand around the pyramid, several objects 
were revealed which probably belonged to the workmen — 
wooden mallets and some crudely worked limestone bowls, 
which may have been attempts by the workmen to fashion vessels 
out of builders' waste. Rollers were also found here. On the 
ground leading to the quarry, there were many logs of wood, 
laid level in the rock floor, and thus arranged to aid the dragging 
of stones from the quarry. The logs were apparently all old 
timbers from ships. In general, it was the transportation of 
quarried blocks (many of which weighed several tons) from the 
quarry to the site which caused considerable difficulty. For longer 
distances, the stones were transported by barge on the river, but 
there was always some distance to cover between the river and 
the pyramid site. Wheeled vehicles were never popular in Egypt 
until later times, and sledges and rollers were preferred. 
Occasionally, sledges were pulled over rollers, but it was more 
usual for sledges to be pulled by men with tow-ropes, along a 
carefully lubricated route. 

The stone blocks were cut out from the quarries by a simple 
method. Holes were made in the rock using a chisel, along a 
required line, and very dry wooden wedges were inserted into 
the prepared holes. The wedges were then saturated with water 
so that they expanded and split the stone into the desired shape 
and size. 

Once at the pyramid site, the sledge carrying the stone was 
probably dragged up a ramp, built against the side of the pyramid, 
and the stone would finally be levered into position. It would be 
carefully trimmed before it was lowered into place, to fit closely 
with the neighbouring block. As the height of the pyramid grew, 
so the ramps were extended in length; these were eventually 
removed when the building was completed. The face-trimming 
of the stones would have been carried out once the blocks were 
all in place. Tools included diorite picks, bronze and copper tools, 
and sandstone blocks to finely rub down the surfaces. 

At Lahun, Petrie even found evidence of the workmen's daily 
food ration. Outside the pyramid walls, on the south-western side, 
he discovered the remains of the workmen's dinners — nuts in a 
little pottery saucer of the usual 12th Dynasty type, date-stones, 
small bones, pieces of fish skin, and part of a melon rind. 

50 The background 

To the south of the pyramid, Petrie made one of his most 
spectacular discoveries. Here he found four shaft tombs, the most 
easterly of which, Tomb 8, contained the magnificent Lahun 
treasure. The mouth of the pit was discovered on 5 February 1914, 
and clearance of the area took the best part of five days. He 
uncovered an antechamber which gave on to the burial chamber, 
where a red granite sarcophagus was found which showed evidence 
of the work of ancient robbers. A white limestone canopic chest, 
containing wooden boxes to hold the canopic jars, lay nearby. Inside 
were the canopic jars, made of banded alabaster, which, although 
they were in perfect condition, contained not viscera but resinated 
bundles mixed with mud. The burial had obviously been plundered 
in antiquity and the body broken up. A small piece of black granite, 
perhaps from a statue, was found, inscribed with the words '(King's) 
daughter, King's wife, great consort', and although the name was 
broken away, it probably belonged to the tomb's owner, Princess 
Sit-Hathor-Iunut. However, despite the devastation of the tomb, the 
thieves had overlooked a recess in the west wall of the antechamber, 
and there the princess's jewellery was found, together with her 
caskets, wig-chest and toilet boxes. 

The removal of the artefacts from the recess was time-consuming 
and difficult. The objects had to be loosened from hard and sticky 
mud; it seems that the jewellery was placed on a bed of mud in 
the recess at the time of the funeral, but later storms brought in 
floods which broke the roof of the shaft, and poured down into 
the tomb, washing the items around in the recess so that they 
were in a state of some confusion. The account of clearing the 
recess relates that: 

The whole of the mud from the recess was finally taken to 
the huts and washed, the mud remaining in suspension, 
and the beads, being heavier, fell to the bottom of the 
basins. In this way, we can be certain that not a single 
bead, however minute, can have been overlooked. 
Professor Petrie and Mr. Campion did this work, which 
was spread over some weeks. 

The Lahun jewellery was a significant discovery, not only because 
it provided an outstanding testimony to the skill of the craftsmen 
who had made it, but also because Petrie's excavation techniques 
and methods at Lahun provided sufficient evidence to enable 

The Lahun pyramid 51 

Egyptologists to more accurately reassemble a contemporary 
treasure discovered at Dahshur. Here, in 1894 and 1895, the 
archaeologist De Morgan had found, in the precincts of the 
pyramids of Amenemmes II and of Sesostris III, the tombs and 
jewellery of six royal women. This jewellery was again found 
hidden in the tombs and not placed on the mummies, probably to 
confuse the tomb robbers, although it is possible that an inferior 
set of jewellery was placed on the mummy. However, De Morgan's 
methods of removing the jewellery had been less painstaking, and 
the Lahun treasure, which closely resembled it, proved invaluable 
in reconstructing the design of the Dahshur jewellery. 

A survey of the 12th Dynasty royal jewellery indicates that there 
was no standard set for a princess, although the ornaments owned 
by princesses who were almost contemporaries were frequently 
similar. At Dahshur, it was the Princess Merit whose jewellery 
most closely resembled that of Sit-Hathor-Iunut at Lahun, and 
they possessed pectorals of a similar design. Sit-Hathor-Iunut's 
treasure itself contained jewellery and other objects of different 
dates. She was the daughter of Sesostris II, from whom she received 
some of her ornaments. As the daughter of his old age, she was 
many years younger than her brother, Sesostris III, and her 
husband, Amenemmes III, was probably her nephew. Her second 
group of jewellery, from Amenemmes III, may have been given to 
her when he ascended the throne. However, she chose to be buried 
not with her husband at Hawara, but in her father's pyramid 
complex at Lahun, perhaps because the Hawara site was 
unfinished when she died. 

Because the Lahun treasure appeared to duplicate much of 
the Dahshur hoard, Petrie was allowed to keep the jewellery, 
with the exception of three unique items — the crown, pectoral 
and mirror — which remained in Cairo. He sold the rest to the 
Metropolitan Museum in New York, who made a large grant 
available for future work. 

The crown was an outstanding example of 12th Dynasty 
craftsmanship. A plain band of gold, with fifteen rosettes, a uraeus, 
representations of feathers, and a pair of streamers, it introduced 
a new design and seemed to be a ceremonial head-dress, to be 
worn over a wig. It differed from lighter crowns found at Dahshur, 
but was obviously worn and used in life, and was not designed 
for funerary purposes. Indeed, all this jewellery was for personal, 
lifetime adornment and showed evidence of wear. 

52 The background 

One pectoral, the gift of Amenemmes III, remained in Cairo; 
the other, presented by Sesostris II, was possibly the finest example 
of Egyptian inlay ever discovered, with cut stones of lapis lazuli, 
turquoise, carnelian and garnet set in gold, on to a backing of white 
plaster. In the centre was the king's cartouche. The mirror, made 
of silver, was set into an obsidian handle which represented the 
head of Hathor, the cow-headed goddess, surmounted on a lotus 
base; electrum, gold, lapis lazuli, crystal and carnelian were also 
used to fashion this exquisite handle. Although the mirror was of 
a type well-known at Dahshur, where the princess Merit possessed 
five, the Dahshur mirrors had wooden handles, whereas the Lahun 
one, with its inlaid obsidian handle, was unique. However, it is 
interesting to note that a much humbler version, also with a 
wooden handle, was discovered in one of the houses at the 
workmen's village of Kahun. In addition, the royal treasure 
included a variety of beads of different types and materials; tubular 
beads of thin sheet gold were perhaps worn on the plaits of a wig; 
others were worn as necklaces, or threaded in panels for belts, 
anklets or bracelets. One necklace was made of gold cowry shells, 
and another incorporated representations of lion-heads. Two lapis 
lazuli scarabs, one engraved with the name of Amenemmes III, 
were found with the crown. 

Other toilette articles included three gold-mounted obsidian 
perfume jars and one kohl pot, which were the princess's personal 
possessions; a set of eight alabaster ointment vases; copper knives 
and copper razors with gold handles, together with two whetstones 
to sharpen the razors; caskets to contain the jewels; and the 
alabaster vases. A plain wooden box, perhaps to contain a wig or 
linen, was also found. 

This treasure of the 12th Dynasty perhaps represents the acme 
of the jeweller's craft in Egypt. It is also important because these 
are items of personal royal adornment, rather than funerary 
jewellery. At the other scientific excavations in Egypt which have 
revealed royal jewellery, it has been mainly funerary items which 
have been found. However, from other sources, such as tomb wall- 
scenes and temple wall reliefs, it is evident that, although the 
12th Dynasty jewellery from Lahun has certain features peculiar 
to that period and exhibits a specially high standard of 
craftsmanship, it nevertheless follows the broad pattern of 
traditional Egyptian jewellery. 

The Egyptians used jewellery for a number of purposes. The 

The Lahun pyramid 53 

gods, the dead and the living received items of personal adornment 
which were believed to confer on them certain benefits. Perhaps 
most important was the use of amulets (articles of jewellery worn 
or carried) to ward off evil or hostile forces, such as animals, 
dangers, natural disasters, and illness. The shapes the amulets 
took — animals, parts of the body, hieroglyphs, images of gods, 
special signs with a particular magical significance — were believed 
to protect the wearer against specific or general dangers. The 
materials used in the jewellery were also believed to contain 
special properties; gold and some of the stones — carnelian, lapis 
lazuli and turquoise — would bring assistance through the magical 
potency of their colours, while other natural materials, such as 
shells, brought protection to the wearer through their actual 
shapes. The idea of protecting the wearer with jewellery was 
extended to that made for the living as well as for the dead, 
although funerary jewellery tended to be more traditional in design 
and less well constructed. 

Jewellery was also used to indicate status and wealth. Kings 
gave constant employment to their jewellers, requiring sets of 
jewellery to mark important events in their reigns, such as 
marriage, accession to the throne, and jubilee festivals; funerary 
equipment for the ruler and his relatives was also produced. 
Jewellery was also presented to foreign powers, and as a mark of 
royal esteem to honoured courtiers and officials, as well as to 
signify the appointment of royal delegates. On special occasions, 
kings would receive gifts of jewellery from their courtiers. 

Throughout Egypt's long history, the materials used for jewellery 
varied very little. With the richest deposits of gold in the ancient 
world, the Egyptians favoured this metal because it could first be 
easily collected in granules in sands and gravel and then melted 
into larger rings. Later, more advanced methods of mining were 
introduced, when the gold was extracted from veins in quartz rock. 
Also, gold did not decay or tarnish, and its colour reflected the 
sun, one of Egypt's most important gods, and could thus confer 
special magical benefits on the wearer. The supplies came from 
Nubia, to the south, and from the Eastern Desert. Other precious 
metals, such as silver, which the Egyptians called 'white gold', 
and electrum, were also used for setting stones. Electrum was 
imported from Punt and the Eastern Desert, and most of the silver 
came from Western Asia. Native 'silver' — a low-grade gold with a 
high proportion of silver — was rarer than gold in Egypt and was 

54 The background 

highly prized. By the New Kingdom, the jewellers had learnt how 
to experiment with various alloys and to produce different 
'coloured' metals for their gold work. 

The metals were set with semi-precious stones, chosen for their 
colours and polish rather than their refractive properties. Most 
popular were carnelian, turquoise and lapis lazuli. Carnelian 
pebbles were picked up in the Eastern Desert; turquoise was mined 
in the sandstone outcrops in Sinai, where Hathor, the goddess of 
miners, was given a special cult; and lapis lazuli was imported 
from Badakhshan. Other stones — jasper, garnet, green falspar, 
amethyst, rock-crystal, obsidian, calcite, chalcedony — were found 
locally and utilised in the jewellery designs. The demand for some 
of these natural stones led the Egyptians to develop artificial 
methods of imitating them. Transparent stones such as calcite and 
rock-crystal, backed with coloured cements, were used as inlays, 
while to imitate the relatively rare imported lapis lazuli, they 
developed an imitative substance known today as 'Egyptian 
faience'. By the New Kingdom, there was also large-scale glass 
manufacture, and factories were established at the main centres 
of Thebes, Amarna and Gurob. 

The craftsmen who produced these fine pieces were highly 
skilled and much esteemed in ancient Egypt. They were mainly 
employed either in the royal workshops or in temple workshops 
associated with the most powerful gods. Gold, levied as a tax, 
was collected and entered the state magazines, although some may 
also have entered the temple treasures, or have even been made 
available for the limited private work which was carried out. It 
was then carefully weighed, recorded and allocated to the 
goldsmiths in the workshops. 

Goldsmiths, bead-makers, workers in precious stones and other 
associated craftsmen always appear, in tomb scenes, to work 
together under joint supervision. There was probably a chief 
jeweller, who had received a scribe's training, and had some 
freedom to design individual pieces as well as supervising the 
work of the others. Generally, the crafts were probably handed 
down in a number of families, but in the Middle Kingdom, it is 
possible that foreign craftsmen, perhaps from the Mediterranean 
area, were attracted to work in Egypt. Some of the royal jewellery 
at Dahshur shows a very non-Egyptian influence, although it is 
possible that these pieces were received as gifts from abroad. In 
the Old Kingdom, the first workshops were undoubtedly situated 

The Lahun pyramid 55 

at Memphis, and the important god of Memphis — Ptah — became 
the patron god of jewellers. However, over the years, other centres 
undoubtedly became important and it is not inconceivable that 
craftsmen at Kahun produced some of the fine 12th Dynasty 

Wherever they were based, the jewellers only had access to 
simple and primitive tools. Before the New Kingdom, the furnace 
consisted of a pottery bowl supported on a stand filled with 
charcoal; the blow pipe was made of a reed tipped with a clay 
nozzle. By the New Kingdom, a blast furnace had been introduced, 
which was worked by means of a leather bellows, but before this, 
the craftsmen could not achieve really high temperatures to fuse 
metals and had only limited control over the level of the heat. 
Other tools included polished pebbles used to hammer the metals, 
and possibly limestone and bronze hammers; sandstone and 
quartzite stones used as files; bronze or copper tongs; and bow- 
drills to perforate stones. The softness of the high carat gold made 
the task of working the metal slightly easier, but with the limited 
tools available, the results are nevertheless remarkable. 

A limited range of techniques were employed by the jewellers, 
including repousse and chasing, engraving, granular work, 
possibly brought in by foreign craftsmen in the 12th Dynasty, and 
cloisonne-work, which reached its peak in the Middle Kingdom. 
Various techniques such as drilling and polishing were also used 
in the bead jewellery at which the Egyptians excelled. Many beads 
were also manufactured, from faience which was introduced in 
the predynastic period, and much later, from glass. 

The treasure from Lahun is remarkable because of the high 
quality of the craftsmanship despite the availability of such a 
limited range of tools. Nevertheless, it is based upon the same 
principles of design which influenced most Egyptian jewellery. 
Although some items in the Lahun hoard are rare, such as the 
beaded belts owned by the princess which may reflect a foreign 
fashion, there are also examples which are entirely Egyptian but 
which developed in the Middle Kingdom and are representative 
of that period. These include the famous pectorals, trapezoidal in 
shape and decorated with the king's name. The representation of 
a shell motif was also popular and often took the form of a gold 
shell, inscribed with the king's name. 


The Towns of the Royal 

Much of our knowledge of ancient Egypt is derived from tombs 
and temples — from the scenes carved and painted on the walls, 
and from the artefacts buried in the tombs. These sites, built of 
stone to last for eternity, are well preserved and in many cases 
have not been built over in more recent times. However, the 
towns — or settlement sites, as they are called — should also play a 
major role in any consideration of Egypt's society and civilisation. 
Because they were built of mud-brick, and in many cases have 
successive levels of occupation, they have survived less well and 
have therefore not received the same degree of attention as the 
funerary and religious monuments. Nevertheless, they are of vital 
importance in providing a more complete picture of life in Egypt. 
Some archaeologists have suggested that true urban 
development never existed on a widespread scale in ancient Egypt; 
that because of environmental, political and religious systems, 
the walled city with different building levels and continuous 
settlement was not found throughout the country. It has been 
argued that, because a stable centralised monarchy had been 
established by King Menes at the beginning of the 1st Dynasty, 
subsequently there was no real political need for walled towns, 
and that the natural barriers provided by the deserts and mountains 
protected Egypt from most external threats. Thus, the need for 
true towns was limited to areas where products entered Egypt or 
along the east- west trade route involving the Red Sea and the oases 
in the Western Desert. In between, it is claimed, there was only a 
string of small 'harbours' along the Nile, in place of substantial 
town development. Each nome or district also had its modest 


The towns of the royal workmen 57 

centre, where the offices and houses for the administrators and 
officials were situated. The royal capital, or centre of government, 
was moved by different kings from one site to another; kings also 
had numbers of residences scattered around Egypt to which they 
paid occasional visits. In addition to housing the officials, all these 
urban developments also attracted craftsmen, traders and farmers 
to supply food for the townspeople. However, most of Egypt's 
resources were directed towards the construction of temples, 
tombs, and especially the king's mortuary complex, rather than 
to the towns, and this state of non-urbanisation persisted until 
the New Kingdom. By contrast, in Mesopotamia, urbanism was 
highly developed from the earliest times, and the city-state 
persisted as the most important element of the society. 

The disappearance of the mud-brick towns in Egypt, which have 
been lost either because they have disappeared under the alluvial 
mud of the inundation or because the bricks have been removed 
by successive generations of locals for use as fertiliser, has not 
facilitated a correct assessment of the number and size of real 
towns in Egypt in the earlier periods. However, sufficient evidence 
exists to allow the concept of non-urbanism to be strongly 
contested by other archaeologists. It has been claimed that, as well 
as the major sites such as Memphis, even in the Old Kingdom, at 
sites in Upper Egypt such as Edfu, Abydos and Thebes, it is evident 
that there were walled towns of various sizes and types, and that 
towns existed at most or all of the places known from other sources 
to be administrative centres. These towns were occupied by 
officials with local duties, agricultural workers, and craftsmen 
and did not merely exist as the result of socio-economic conditions. 
In some cases they were specfically created to house personnel 
associated with temples or other monuments, at the behest of the 
government. This alternative concept of urbanism in Egypt 
presents a view of a country with an ordinary pattern of town 
development, rather than the sparse townships previously 
suggested. However, although they were obviously an important 
element in the society, the existence and development of 
settlement sites is a subject which does not find adequate coverage 
in the surviving inscriptional sources on which much of our 
understanding of the society is based. 

Although the quantity, importance and spread of settlement sites 
in Egypt is disputed, it is apparent that two main types of urban 
development occurred. One was the natural, unplanned growth 

58 The background 

which evolved from the conditions of the predynastic villages. 
The second was a planned growth; certain towns were initiated 
for specific reasons in particular areas; they continued for the 
duration of the project, and were finally abandoned. Because their 
location was dependent upon the site of the project, they were 
not natural choices for continuing occupation and therefore were 
not levelled down for re-settlement. Some of these towns were 
built to house the royal workmen engaged on the building, 
decoration and maintenance of the king's funerary complex, and 
although they are not the oldest settlements, they are particularly 
important and also relatively well preserved. 

In the Old Kingdom, there would certainly have existed 
workforces to build the pyramids, and new excavations by the 
Egyptian Antiquities Organisation throw light on these. However, 
no details remain of how these men were controlled and managed. 
Most of the labourforce was made up of conscripted peasants. I 
theory, every Egyptian was liable to perform corvee-duty and was 
required to work for the state for a certain number of days each 
year. The wealthier evaded the duty by providing substitutes or 
paying their way out of the obligation, so it was the peasants who 
effectively supplied this labour. At first, their duties consisted of 
building and maintaining the network of irrigation systems, but 
since the land was annually covered with water for several months 
because of the inundation, the peasants were later gainfully 
employed during this period on the construction of tombs 
(especially the royal tomb or pyramid), and on the temples. This 
provided them with food (they were paid in kind) and acted as a 
focus for the use of Egypt's manpower and resources. It has been 
suggested that the early use of the labourforce in this way — when 
they were engaged in building the king's pyramid during the Old 
Kingdom — provided a strong, unifying factor which enabled Egypt 
to develop as a powerful centralised state. Each pyramid project 
acted as a political, social and economic focus, and also, in the 
Old Kingdom, as a potent religious force, since at that time it was 
believed that individual eternity could only be attained through 
the king's own ascension to the heavens after death. Thus, the 
labourers and craftsmen sought to ensure their own eternity 
through service in constructing the royal tomb. The peasants were 
not slaves in the strict sense of the word, although their freedom 
and choice of action in terms of their place and type of work was 
strictly limited by social and economic factors. 

The towns of the royal workmen 59 

Although most of the workforce were conscripted peasants, even 
in the Old Kingdom there would have been professional craftsmen 
and architects responsible for the more detailed work on the 
funerary complex, and these would have been housed near the 
pyramid sites. Petrie maintained that he had uncovered some 
traces near Giza of the barracks in which the workforce was 
housed, and the recent excavations have revealed other evidence 
relating to the workforce. The earliest complete example of a 
purpose-built royal workmen's town which has so far been 
revealed is Kahun. However, two other towns of a similar type 
have been excavated — the site known as Deir el-Medina, built to 
house the workmen engaged in building and decorating the royal 
tombs during the New Kingdom at Thebes, and that at Tell el- 
Amarna, the capital city with its associated rock tombs built by 
the heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten, at the end of the 18th Dynasty. 

Although these towns were constructed at different periods, 
they shared a common functional purpose, and certain physical 
and environmental characteristics. 

The three towns were conceived and built to a predetermined 
plan and none grew out of any previous random settlement. Each 
was enclosed by a thick brick wall, designed to confine the 
workmen and their families to a certain area. It is evident that the 
sites, all on the desert edge, were chosen because they were near 
to the worksite, but also because, isolated and surrounded by hills, 
they could be guarded. The inhabitants, after all, had knowledge 
of the position and structure of the royal tomb, and it was essential 
that such knowledge was retained as effectively as possible within 
an enclosed community. Planned within boundary walls, there is 
some evidence both at Amarna and at Deir el-Medina (occupied 
over a much longer period) that random growth of houses 
eventually occurred outside the walls. It is also noteworthy that 
even the proximity of a good water supply was not considered 
essential to these town sites, the requirements of isolation and 
security being greater. It is evident in all the towns that they were 
built to conform to a definite plan, with walls dividing them in a 
north/ south orientation. Constructed for speed and efficiency, 
they are distinguished by regular rows of terraced houses for the 
workforce, and at Kahun and Deir el-Medina, some officials were 
also resident. At Amarna, there were 74 houses, at Kahun 100, 
and 140 at Deir el-Medina. 

Each town also has some unique features, both in terms of its 

60 The background 

original concept, its development and occupation, and also in the 
quantity and type of artefacts discovered there by archaeologists. 
The three towns provide us with excellent examples of early town 
planning and give a fascinating insight into the everyday lives of 
special communities in Egypt. 

Tell el-Amarna 

Towards the end of the 18th Dynasty, King Amenophis IV 
patronised the cult of the Aten and introduced a period of solar 
monotheism which some scholars have regarded as a religious 
revolution; others prefer to see it as an evolution or culmination 
of the beliefs which had been developing throughout the earlier 
part of the 1 8th Dynasty. 

The king, regarding himself as the god's agent on earth, changed 
his name to Akhenaten. He moved the capital from Thebes, 
administrative centre of his predecessors and the cult city of the 
pre-eminent state-god Amen-Re , to a virgin site midway between 
Thebes and Memphis. Here he built a new city, Akhetaten, which 
today is widely known as Amarna, or Tell el-Amarna. This city, 
which housed the administrative offices, the royal palaces, and 
temples to the Aten, stretched along the east bank of the Nile, 
encircled by cliffs. The North City was occupied by a palace, 
temple and government offices; the Central City had a palace, 
temple and a government office and was essentially the business 
quarter; and the South City housed officials and courtiers and 
was the industrial centre. During this brief period of heresy, the 
king and his courtiers planned to be buried in a series of rock-cut 
tombs in the cliffs surrounding the city. The situation of these 
tombs on the east, like so much else at this period, flouted 
tradition — in this case, the time-honoured custom of burying the 
dead on the west bank. 

To build and decorate the city and the tombs, however, a 
traditional workforce was needed, and their purpose-built town 
lay in a fold between the cliffs and the South City. A shallow 
secluded valley in the side of a low, narrow terrace which runs 
out from the desert cliffs, divided it from the main city. Almost 
half of this village (37 houses) was cleared by the Egypt Exploration 
Fund in 1921 and 1922, but a preliminary survey in the 1970s 
indicated that there would be potential for further fieldwork, 
despite considerable damage at the site. Its similarity to Deir el- 

The towns of the royal workmen 61 

Medina, the compactness of the site, and the probable variety of 
the remains were all factors that encouraged the archaeologists to 
undertake further work there. Current excavations under the 
auspices of the Egypt Exploration Society are now revealing new 
facts about the site and one of the main aims of the present 
fieldwork has been to complete the excavation of the remaining 
houses within the walled area. 

Like Kahun, the town was divided into two unequal sections, 
but this division did not reflect a class segregation as at Kahun. 
The houses appear to have followed a common design, except for 
the house of the commandant. Each house had four areas: an outer 
hall; a living room; a bedroom; and a kitchen leading to the roof. 
The building materials included wood, brick and very little stone. 
The recent excavations have shown that two distinct types of brick 
were produced: in one, standard Nile alluvial mud was used, 
mixed with gravel, and in the other, the material was pebbly desert 
marl quarried from the hills around the village. The enclosure 
walls of the village, and the foundations and parts of some of the 
houses, were of the alluvial mud. It has been suggested that 
perhaps at the beginning of building works at Amarna, a 
government agency had supplied proper mud bricks and possibly 
an architect to build the village enclosure walls and to lay out the 
foundation courses of some of the houses. Subsequently, each 
family perhaps had to obtain its own materials to finish off the 
work, and since mud-bricks were in short supply, they used the 
crumbly reddish-brown bricks from the nearby hillside quarries. 
In some cases, these were replaced with rough stones. If this theory 
can be proved, it would indicate the extent to which the state was 
actually involved in the construction of the village, and would 
also explain why some variations occur in the internal design of 
the houses. The importance of this excavation centres on providing 
new information such as this, and on revealing domestic 
architectural details of houses lived in by one section of Egyptian 

Amarna village therefore, like Kahun, was probably built by a 
single architect. It shared certain principles with the other work- 
towns, as well as distinct differences from the randomly-developed 
villages. It had no wells, and the water was brought from the river 
a couple of miles away. However, it was enclosed and guarded, 
indicating some degree of official control. The houses, although 
not elaborate, were sturdily built, with painted walls and ceilings, 

62 The background 

and the articles found here, although not as comprehensive as 
those at Kahun, indicate that the same type of tools, household 
goods and toilette objects were used. Organic materials, including 
animal bones and grains, have also been preserved, as well as a 
mass of pottery. It also seems probable that the labour force here, 
as in the other workmen's towns, included some foreign elements. 
Although Amarna village has not revealed such a wealth of 
inscriptional material as Deir el-Medina, it is of unique religious 
interest. Here the finds indicate that, although the city of Akhetaten 
was built for the pursuance of the monotheistic cult of the Aten, 
represented by the sun's disk, the workmen themselves retained 
some religious independence and continued to worship traditional 
deities such as the cow-goddess Hathor, and the long-revered 
household deities Bes, the god of jollification, dancing and 
marriage, and Tauert, the goddess of fecundity and childbirth. 

When Akhetaten was abandoned and the court returned to 
Thebes after Akhenaten's death and to the restoration of the 
traditional religious beliefs, the workmen's village at Amarna 
would have fallen into disuse once the centre of royal activity 
went elsewhere. The craftsmen and their families took up 
residence once again in the village of Deir el-Medina. 

Deir el-Medina 

The community of workmen at Deir el-Medina was involved in 
the construction and decoration of the kings' tombs. Together with 
their wives and families, they occupied the town for some 450 
years, from the beginning of the 18th Dynasty to the end of the 
20th Dynasty. 

The princes of Thebes, who succeeded in driving out from Egypt 
the Hyksos rulers who had occupied the country for many years, 
established themselves as kings of the 18th Dynasty. This 
inaugurated the third great period of Egypt's history — the New 
Kingdom — when foreign policy changed after the Hyksos 
occupation from one of defence to one of aggression. The early 
part of the 18th Dynasty was devoted to pursuing this aim — the 
conquest of an empire — and areas of Asia Minor, Syria and 
Palestine were brought under Egyptian influence. Egypt became 
the wealthiest and most powerful country in the ancient world. 
At home, great temples were built and extended, and Amen-Re , 
the supreme state-god of Egypt whose cult centre was the Temple 

The towns of the royal workmen 63 

of Karnak at Thebes, was given a special role as father of all gods 
and creator of a universe which now included foreign subjects. 

However, although Egypt was secure and wealthy, the kings 
now chose not to be buried in pyramids. They sought instead to 
gain protection for themselves and their possessions by choosing 
a burial site which was less obvious and more readily guarded 
against tomb-robbers. It was a futile hope, for of all the kings laid 
to rest in their tombs in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes, the only 
tomb which has so far been discovered in a more or less intact 
state is that of the young pharaoh, Tutankhamun. Nevertheless, 
the Theban cliffs on the west bank of the Nile provide a dramatic 
setting for these tombs. The natural cliff formation resembles a 
pyramid shape, and this may have lent additional support to the 
18th Dynasty rulers' choice of burial site. The highest point, known 
as 'The Peak', was personified by the Egyptians as a goddess who 
was believed to protect all those resting in the rocky cliffs below. 
One of these barren, rugged areas in the western hills is known 
today as the 'Valley of the Kings', for here the rulers of the New 
Kingdom were buried in deep rock-cut tombs. In a nearby cleft, 
some of their queens and princes occupied similar tombs in the 
so-called 'Valley of the Queens'. In a number of places scattered 
across this rugged landscape, the rock is honeycombed with the 
tombs of courtiers and officials who were sufficiently honoured 
to be buried near their kings, in the same way that the nobles of 
the Old and Middle Kingdoms had lain in mastaba-tombs clustered 
at the pyramid's base. 

Only the first king of the 18th Dynasty — Amosis I — was buried 
in a pyramid. His successor, Amenophis I, was the first to build a 
tomb separate from the associated Mortuary Temple which had 
adjoined the king's burial place in the pyramid complex. His 
successor, Tuthmosis I, the first ruler to be buried in the Valley of 
the Kings, seems to have also built the workmen's village at Deir 
el-Medina, as the bricks in its enclosure wall are stamped with 
his name. However, the devotion of the workmen to Amenophis I 
and his mother, Ahmes-Nefertari, may indicate that they had been 
instrumental in setting up the corps of workmen. In later times, 
they certainly held a special place and were worshipped by the 
community as patrons of the royal workmen. Little is known of 
the earliest years of the community although the men were 
probably drawn from a number of places and were already 
segregated from other workforces in the area employed on temple 

64 The background 

building projects. Their names indicate that they were of Egyptian 
origin, but included some who descended from Nubian or Hyksos 

The town was continuously occupied until the 21st Dynasty, 
although, even if it was still inhabited during the Amarna 
period, some of the workforce was probably moved to Akhetaten 
which, as we have seen, briefly became the centre of royal 
activity. Although the Court returned to Thebes in the reign of 
Tutankhamun (Akhenaten's half-brother and son-in-law), it is 
unclear if Deir el-Medina was again immediately in use. It had 
certainly resumed its role under King Horemheb at the end of 
the 18th Dynasty, and flourished again in the 19th Dynasty 
when, at the time of King Ramesses IPs death, the craftsmen 
reached their highest numbers and greatest prosperity. It is 
evident that fear of the increased Libyan raids, general unrest 
and decline, and the aftermath of the major tomb-robberies 
finally forced the inhabitants to abandon the town. Ramesses 
XI owned the last tomb to have been built in the Valley of the 
Kings, and his successors were buried in the Delta at Tanis. So, 
by the early 21st Dynasty, the workforce had left Deir el-Medina, 
either forced to flee in fear, or conscripted for duties elsewhere. 
In its heyday, however, the town supported a thriving 
community, and the evidence which is preserved to us in the 
houses, the nearby tombs, and the papyri, ostraca, stelae and 
inscriptions provide an unparalleled source of detailed 
information. Unlike Kahun or Amarna, the excavations here 
have yielded large quantities of written material — official 
records, private letters, and literary texts — making it possible 
to identify the names of the workmen, their wives and their 
families, the houses they occupied, their legal transactions, and 
their working conditions. In addition, the artists' sketches on 
limestone flakes and potsherds which have been found in large 
quantities here provide a vivid insight into their everyday 
concerns and show us something of their humour. Thus, 
although in size, length of occupation, and date, Deir el-Medina 
differs from Kahun, it was built according to the same 
principles, and in addition provides literary information on 
the organisation and conditions of the royal workforce. To some 
extent, these must reflect the situation in the other two towns. 

The physical arrangement of the village of Deir el-Medina 
closely resembled the situation at Amarna and at Kahun. Situated 

The towns of the royal workmen 65 

on the west bank near Thebes, it was hidden from the river; the 
only approach was along a narrow road which ran in a north to 
south direction through the valley, and this must have been the 
route taken by servants bringing supplies to the village and by 
members of the community who went to trade goods with those 
living in the cultivation. However, like Kahun and Amarna, its 
isolation afforded ease of surveillance, and it was also near to the 
worksite — considerations more important than proximity to a good 
water supply. The town had no well and the water had to be 
brought from the river which was about 1.61 km away. Special 
parties went to fetch the water supplies on donkeys, and it was 
then kept in a large tank outside the north gate, under the watchful 
eye of a special guard. From this, women drew their rations and 
kept them in large pots at the entrance to the house, to be used for 
domestic requirements. 

The original town was enclosed inside a thick mud-brick wall. 
There is little information about the layout of the town within 
this wall during the 18th Dynasty, although it seems that not all 
the area was taken up with buildings at that time. This first village 
was destroyed by fire, perhaps during the Amarna Period, but 
under the restoration of King Horemheb, when the Court had 
already returned to Thebes and there was a return to earlier 
traditions, Deir el-Medina expanded. New houses were built, the 
damaged ones restored, and in the 19th Dynasty, the community 
reached its zenith. Then, the village occupied an area some 132 
metres long and 50 metres wide. The area within the wall 
contained seventy houses, but other houses, numbering between 
forty and fifty, grew up outside the wall. Although there were 
over 400 years of occupation, there was no evidence of continuous 
levels of building within the enclosure walls and the floor levels 
of the houses were never raised. The expansion in numbers of the 
community was dealt with by erecting houses for them outside 
the walls, some of which were built amongst and over early tombs. 
This was perhaps the result of official policy not to extend the 
village itself. Certainly, the enclosure wall, originally conceived 
as a means of isolating and perhaps defending the community, 
eventually became a distinction between two social levels, with 
the descendants of the original inhabitants living inside the walls 
and considering themselves a superior category, while the less 
privileged remained outside. 

The original village was bisected by a main north to south 

66 The background 

street; with expansion in the number of houses, further side 
roads were created. The houses were arranged in blocks and 
the village presented a rectangular appearance, within its 
enclosure wall. The houses were all terraces; the earliest ones 
had no foundations and were built entirely of mud-brick, but 
the later ones, built on rubble, had basements of stone or brick 
and stone walls topped with mud-brick. Stone was also used 
for some of the thresholds. The houses had just one storey, and 
the roofs were always flat, constructed of wooden beams and 
matting, with small holes left to let in some light. Wood (from 
the date-palm, sycamore, acacia and carob trees) was readily 
available here, unlike Kahun, where the mud-brick roofs were 
vaulted. At Deir el-Medina, stone or wood was also used for 
door-frames, and the small natural light supply was doubtless 
augmented by leaving the wooden doors ajar. Hieroglyphic 
texts, painted in red, often occur on the door jambs and lintels 
and make it possible to identify some of the occupants. It seems 
that the houses were originally assigned to individual tenants 
by the government, but that, over the years, their families took 
on the tenancies on a hereditary basis. 

Generally, the houses were quite cramped and dark. They all 
opened directly on to the street, and followed a basic pattern, 
although variations reflected some difference in status and wealth. 
The more affluent might plaster and whitewash their outside walls 
and paint their doors red but the floors were all made of earth. An 
average house had four rooms. An entrance hall led off the street, 
and here there was a brick structure which resembled a four-poster 
bed, often decorated with painted figures of women and the 
household god, Bes. This has been variously described as a 'birth- 
bed', or an altar. Here, also, there were niches in the walls to 
contain painted stelae, offering tables and ancestral busts, and 
the area probably acted as a household chapel. 

A second room led off this; this was the main living room and 
it was higher than the first, with one or more columns to support 
the roof. Here, there was also a low brick platform, probably used 
as a sitting or sleeping divan. Small windows set high in the walls 
provided this room with some light. In a few houses, the 
archaeologists discovered child burials beneath this main room, 
a custom also encountered at Kahun. 

One or two small rooms were entered from the main room, 
which were probably used as sleeping and storage quarters. At 

The towns of the royal workmen 67 

the back of the house, a kitchen was situated, consisting of a 
walled, open area, with storage bins, a small brick or pottery oven 
in which to bake bread, an open hearth and an area for grinding 
the grain supplied as payment to the workmen. A staircase to the 
roof led from the first, second or fourth rooms, and cellars under 
some of the houses were used to store possessions. 

The walls of the rooms were either decorated with frescoes or 
whitewashed; the columns, window and door surrounds were 
coloured, and blue and yellow were favourite choices. Although 
Deir el-Medina has not provided the wealth of domestic artefacts 
which Petrie uncovered at Kahun, since most of the furniture had 
disappeared from the village, nevertheless, scenes on the walls of 
the workmen's tombs show the type of furniture which would 
have been used in the houses. Furniture was sparse and functional, 
and would have included stools, tables, and headrests for sleeping, 
and chests, boxes, baskets and jars to contain the family's 

The accommodation of the workmen was not, however, spartan, 
and reflected their comparative affluence as highly skilled 
craftsmen in a society that valued their importance as builders of 
tombs and artificers of funerary equipment. 

Documentary evidence provides information about the 
organisation of the gang of workmen employed on the royal tombs. 
The word used in Egyptian for 'gang' is derived from the word for 
a 'ship's crew'. There is no conclusive evidence about the strength 
of the gang; the full complement may have numbered as many as 
120 men, but it was probably usually much lower, and it has been 
suggested that at the beginning of a reign, when the major work 
on a new tomb was inaugurated, the number was at its highest. 
However, it would have declined as the reign progressed. The 
figures, based on the records of grain rations supplied to the 
workmen, can in any case only be tentative, as the workmen may 
simply have been absent from work at various times for different 

The gang was divided into a right and left side, with the right 
taking precedence. The men were usually permanently attached 
to a particular side, but they could be transferred, either 
permanently or temporarily, to balance the numbers, although the 
size of the two sides varied and they were not always equal. 

The gang contained different categories of workmen. Most 
important were the chief workmen — 'Great one of the gang' or 

68 The background 

'Chief of the gang'. There were usually two of these allocated to 
the tomb, each commanding one side. They were expected to direct 
the workmen, and they also represented the gang in dealings with 
the authorities. They were approached over any legal matters 
concerning the community and they received correspondence from 
the vizier. They settled disputes, received complaints, and were 
the leading members of the local 'court' which dealt with the 
community's legal problems. They were also responsible for 
instituting an enquiry when a workman died. They mediated 
between the workmen and the authorities and were supposed to 
regulate the workmen's behaviour. Although on some occasions, 
as when the gang went on strike in Ramesses Ill's reign, they 
attempted to persuade them to return to work, at other times, they 
encouraged the workmen to oppose the authorities. Other duties 
included supervising the tomb materials and receiving wood and 
colours for the workmen, as well as issuing new tools to them 
when necessary, and providing them with supplies of wood, 
clothes, oil and wicks. 

Each gang also had two deputies, assigned to the two sides of 
the tomb. These men deputised for the chiefs but otherwise had 
the same duties as the rest of the workmen. A deputy was a 
member of the group to whom reports were made concerning 
supplies; he acted with the chief in receiving supplies for the 
gang and issued commodities to them which included loaves, 
fish, wicks, timber, charcoal, gypsum, oil and jugs of beer. He 
acted as a member of the court, and witnessed legal and 
commercial dealings; with the chiefs and the royal scribe, he 
participated in investigations and inspections, especially those 
associated with the strikes, and shared the responsibility for 
maintaining order in the community. 

Another group were the tomb guardians who, although not 
members of the gang, were closely associated with it. Indeed, it 
has been suggested that these men may have been workmen before 
they became guardians; they were also connected with the tomb 
'door-keepers' which may have been the appointment preliminary 
to becoming a guardian. There was one guardian for the tomb, 
and his main duty was to protect the stock of tomb materials, 
such as wicks, oils, pigments, jasper, leather, sacks and clothes, 
and issue them to the workmen. The copper tools were especially 
valuable, and he was in charge of these, exchanging new tools for 
blunt ones which he sent to the coppersmith to be repaired, and 

The towns of the royal workmen 69 

distributing the replacements to the workmen in the presence of 
the chiefs and scribe. As a man of responsibility, he was a member 
of the local court; he acted as a witness to oaths and other 
transactions; he was a member of the committee which inspected 
tombs in the area; he reported disturbances, and escorted prisoners 
and suspects. 

The next group, the door-keepers, numbered two for a tomb, 
and were assigned to each side of the tomb. However, in some 
instances, there were more. It is clear from the lists that they did 
not form part of the gang, but were conscripted labour, appearing 
amongst the lower jobs, ranking below the gardener and 
woodcutter but above the potter and water-carrier. They have left 
no tombs and practically no inscribed monuments. Their duties 
seem to have included acting as a bodyguard for the scribe, when 
he collected grain from the temple officials; receiving food and 
supplies for the workmen; acting as messengers for the workmen 
or bringing the vizier's messages to them; and witnessing barter 
transactions, oaths, and oracles. They also acted as messengers 
and bailiffs of the village court and seized debtors' property if 
they failed to pay. 

The workmen were provided with their own servants, or serfs. 
Male serfs are known only in connection with the workmen in 
the reign of Merenptah, but they did not work at the tomb, nor 
did they live in the village. Their duties included carrying water, 
fish and vegetables; making gypsum for the tomb walls; cutting 
wood; making pots and washing clothes. They were equally 
divided between the right and left sides of the tomb, and were 
responsible to the scribes from whom they received payment in 
grain. There were probably usually five serfs allocated to each 
side, working in shifts. The water-carrier was a regular worker, 
but the other categories seem to have been less consistently 
employed; at the most prosperous times, a confectioner was also 
included amongst their number. 

In regular employment for the workmen were the group of 
women slaves. Their number varied from time to time, with fifteen 
as the highest; they were attached to one or other side of the gang. 
It seems that they were provided by the king to grind the 
workmen's grain payments into flour, although this was done not 
at the tomb site but on the grindstones in the village. They were 
the king's property, whom he assigned to the community, but the 
custom probably ceased towards the end of the 20th Dynasty. 

70 The background 

Certain categories associated with the Royal Tomb held very 
important responsibilities. The scribes carried out the 
administrative duties associated with the tomb. There were two, 
assigned to the two sides. They kept records of the activities and 
wages, and wrote most of the documents associated with the 
community. Every day, they noted down if all the workmen were 
present and if not, their reasons for absenteeism, as well as any 
unusual events. The preliminary notes were made on limestone 
flakes which were eventually thrown on to the rubbish heaps, 
when the final report, incorporating any additional details, was 
copied on to a papyrus roll. This diary was kept in the scribe's 
office, but extracts with detailed reports were sent at intervals to 
the vizier's office. 

Detailed accounts were also kept of the payments received for 
the workmen, and of the tools and commodities which they issued 
to the community. The scribes also had considerable legal and 
administrative responsibilities. They recorded all the complaints 
and disputes of the village, they interrogated suspected thieves, 
settled divisions of property and generally dealt with cases which 
were too trivial to come before the local court, of which they were 
also members. They were responsible for the serfs and could 
administer punishment to them without reference to the court. 
Other duties involved presenting questions to the oracle of 
Amenophis I to obtain a decision and witnessing the replies, and 
delivering instructions or information from the authorities to the 

In the village, they were much in demand to write letters and 
to read them for the inhabitants. They also augmented their income 
by using their knowledge of writing to decorate inscribed funerary 
equipment for the villagers. Their houses and their tombs were 
situated close to those of the workmen and they were an essential 
part of this tightly knit community. 

In rank, the scribe was second only to the chief, and whereas the 
chief workmen were responsible for the technical progress of the 
tomb, the scribes were concerned with the administrative side. They 
were both responsible for maintaining order, and during the strikes, 
were expected to encourage the workmen to return to work. Both 
chiefs and scribes claimed the title 'Overseer of the Work', but the 
scribe was not responsible to the chief, but directly to the vizier. 
Scribes, with their expert knowledge of writing, would also have 
advised on the drawing and painting of hieroglyphs in the tomb. 

The towns of the royal workmen 71 

The 'captains of the tomb', numbering three or four, provided 
the collective authority over the tomb, and belonged to the gang 
although they were not included in it. This group consisted of 
some of the scribes and chiefs, and combined the authority of 
both. The captains jointly distributed grain rations and working 
materials to the gang. They were responsible for the workmen's 
behaviour and brought them back to work from strikes. They 
represented them in front of the vizier and officials, and protected 
the community's rights. They wrote letters to the vizier, they heard 
disputes, and they took charge of promotions within the gang. 

Finally, there were the police or 'medjay' of the tomb. Originally, 
in the Old and Middle Kingdoms, the 'medjay' had been Nubian 
nomads, but they had come to play a considerable role as 
mercenaries in the Egyptian army, helping to drive out the Hyksos, 
and by the middle of the 18th Dynasty they were established as 
police, protecting towns in Egypt, and especially the area west of 
Thebes. Responsible to the 'Mayor of Western Thebes', the main 
duty of those (probably numbering about eight) who were assigned 
to the royal tomb was to secure the safety of the tomb. They also 
ensured the good conduct of the workmen and at times protected 
them from danger, as when incursions of Libyans threatened their 
safety in the later New Kingdom. 

Other duties included interrogation of thieves, inflicting 
punishments, witnessing various administrative functions, 
inspecting the tomb, and bringing messages and official letters. 
They could also be asked to augment the workforce, and to help 
to transport stone blocks. Although they were closely associated 
with the community, they never belonged to the village nor were 
they buried in the cemetery, but lived in the area, still on the west 
bank, between the Temple of Sethos I at Qurna and the Temple of 
Harnesses III at Medinet Habu. 

Thus, the records from Deir el-Medina are most informative 
about the duties and responsibilities of the workforce, and other 
details can also be gleaned about their working conditions. We 
can, for example, learn something of the promotion procedures. 
Wages over a period varied considerably, and although some of 
the discrepancy was probably because some workmen were 
absent from work for part of the month, it has been suggested 
that some of the lower payments were part of a policy to pay the 
men at two levels. The workmen supporting wives and families 
may have received the higher payment, while the bachelors were 

72 The background 

given less. Part of any gang included these young men, or 
'striplings', who received training in one of the specialisations — 
as stone-masons, carpenters, sculptors or draughtsmen. These 
young men were either newly recruited to the gang, or succeeded 
their fathers. 

The families at Deir el-Medina were large, and therefore, only 
some of the children could hope to join the gang. Boys who were 
destined to do so were known as 'children of the tomb'. With few 
vacancies, competition was intense to get the 'boys' promoted to 
'striplings' and eventually to 'men'. Fathers sought to persuade 
the chiefs to appoint their sons with flattery and bribery; presents, 
mostly of wooden furniture, were given, and one father kept 'a 
list (of all things) which I gave to the agents (of the Tomb to cause) 
them to promote the boy, they being my own and there being 
nobody's things among them'. In theory, the appointments were 
made by the vizier, but in practice the tomb officials chose the 
candidates who were formally approved by the vizier, and 
hereditary employment was a strongly established tradition. Those 
boys who were unsuccessful would have sought work outside the 
village and the gang. 

Promotion to the higher jobs also caused conflict. The chief 
workmen's posts were not hereditary, but it is evident that the 
holder of this position made every effort to secure it for his son. 
Otherwise, the appointment was made from amongst the 
workmen of the gang. However, problems arose with regard to 
the deputies; each chief wished his own son to succeed him and 
not that of the previous chief, and to solve the conflict, the deputy 
was frequently chosen from the gang. In the case of the scribes, 
the office, appointed by the vizier, was expected to pass from 
father to son. 

The wages also varied. The chief workmen received higher 
wages than the ordinary members of the gang; deputies, however, 
did not get a higher payment. The tomb guardians, although not 
members of the gang, received their payment at the same time as 
the workmen. The royal scribe, however, although second in rank 
to the chief, received only half his payment. The women slaves 
received wages very much smaller than those of the workmen, 
but it has been suggested that this was a secondary family income, 
since they were probably married to slaves who worked elsewhere 
in the administration and also received payment. 

The payments were made on the 28th day of the month, for the 

The towns of the royal workmen 73 

following month. The basic payment was in grain, authorised by 
the vizier, and drawn by the royal scribe from the king's granary. 
Sometimes, however, it had to be collected from the storehouses 
of local temples or from nearby farmers, when the scribe was often 
accompanied by two doorkeepers with sticks. The grain included 
emmer wheat which was ground into flour, and barley which was 
made into beer. Other payments supplied by the government 
included fish, vegetables and water; and, for domestic use, wood 
for fuel and pottery. Less regular deliveries were also made of 
cakes, ready-made beer and dates, and on festival days or other 
special occasions, the workforce received bonuses which included 
salt, natron, sesame oil and meat. Some clothes were also supplied 
by the government. Generally, the payments were more than 
sufficient, and families could barter their supplies for other 
products. In addition, some of the royal workmen were much in 
demand to produce fine articles for the houses and tombs of the 
well-to-do, and their standard of living was comfortable. 

The payments were divided out amongst the workforce, the 
officers, guardians and doorkeepers and female slaves, by the 
chiefs and scribes who themselves received a higher wage. The 
doorkeepers and guardians also received more than the workmen, 
as did the member of the gang who acted as the local physician. 

While the payments were regular, the community was 
prosperous, but on occasions, either because of crop failures or 
other demands, the granaries became empty or depleted, and the 
workforce suffered considerable hardships. In the 20th Dynasty, 
there were frequent complaints about the delay in forwarding the 
rations, and when this was ineffectual, the workforce withdrew 
its labour. A major strike occurred in Year 29 of Harnesses III (c. 
1158 BC) and there were shorter strikes in later reigns, the latest 
being recorded in Year 13 of Harnesses X. In the strike under 
Harnesses III the supplies were late; the scribe Amen-nakhte 
attempted to reason with the workmen when the grain was delayed 
for twenty days, and he went himself to the nearby Mortuary 
Temple of King Horemheb to obtain grain for them. Supplies were 
still delayed, and later in the same year, the workmen went on 
strike again and sat down in front of the royal funerary temples, 
refusing to return to work. Eventually, supplies were found, but 
the problems continued and strikes were a not infrequent part of 
labour relations. Although it was expected that the officers would 
encourage the men to return to work, some sided with the gang. 

74 The background 

In the major strike under Harnesses III, one chief encouraged his 
men to take the offered provisions, which he considered to be 
insufficient, but not to return to work: 

The foreman Khons said to the gang: 'Look, I am telling 
you: accept the ration and go down to the port to the gate, 
let the minions of the vizier tell him'. And when the scribe 
Amen-nakhte finished giving them the ration they started 
towards the port as he (Khons) had told them. 

In the same strike, Mentmose, the chief of the police, who was 
supposed to persuade strikers to return to work, says: 

Behold, I tell you my advice. Go up, collect your tools, lock 
your doors and bring your wives and your children. And I will 
go in front of you to the Mansion of Menmaetre (the Temple of 
Sethos I at Qurna) and install you there in the morning. 

He thus encouraged the strike to continue, and some days later, 
he brought some bread and beer for the workmen. 

These Ramesside strikes are important, as they provide the first 
known fully documented evidence of collective protest by a 
workforce. Because the nature of their work on the royal tomb 
had a special significance, and its early completion was essential 
to ensure the king's safe passage to the next world, it was possible 
for them to bend Pharaoh's arm and eventually to obtain their 
rations. However, it is possible that such strikes were not limited 
to the New Kingdom, and there are indications that the workforce 
at Kahun may have used similar methods. Nor were the strikes 
the only delays to completing the royal tomb, for at Deir el-Medina, 
the records also indicate that absenteeism was not uncommon, 
for a number of reasons, and sometimes the whole gang seems to 
have been away from the tomb to carry out unofficial duties for 
the chiefs and scribes. The attendance register kept by the scribe 
also lists other reasons for absenteeism, such as illness, nursing 
other workmen, attending family funerals or actually preparing 
the body of the deceased for burial, offering to the gods and 
attending festivals. Even personal activities were included such 
as quarrelling with one's wife, brewing beer or getting drunk, and 
attending to household repairs! 

However, in addition to providing information about difficulties 

The towns of the royal workmen 75 

experienced in their labour relations, evidence from Deir el- 
Medina also throws light on the gang's working conditions. 
Although the workmen were resident with their wives and families 
at the village, it was necessary for them to spend their working 
days in the Valley of the Kings and to stay overnight in huts nearby. 
They worked continuously for eight days, only returning to the 
village for rest on the ninth and tenth days. Each day, they worked 
two shifts, each of four hours, with a lunch break at noon. In 
addition to their six rest days every month, there were sometimes 
other free periods in the week, and official holidays and religious 
festivals were also quite frequent. In addition, long weekend breaks 
were sometimes taken, and 'unofficial' time was spent preparing 
their own tombs. While the men were away at the rest station 
near the Valley of the Kings, the women organised the life of the 
village; retired men, the sick, men on special duties, and servants 
were also permanently resident. However, in addition to 
household duties and supervising the slaves who ground the grain, 
the women had almost total responsibility for bringing up their 
families in the father's partial absence. Some of the remains of 
the buildings in which the workforce camped have been 
discovered on a pass leading to the Valley of the Kings, and 
indications of a similar stone camp have been discovered at 
Amarna, suggesting that here, too, the workmen engaged on major 
building projects were accommodated at night close to the work 
site, so that they could be closely supervised. 

The selection of the site of the royal tomb was the responsibility 
of a royal commission, headed by the vizier. The various phases 
of constructing and decorating the tomb were carried out in close 
concert, but there was clear specialisation of the various crafts, 
with one phase following another in each area of the tomb. The 
men were supplied with tools by the state, and we have seen that 
certain posts carried the responsibility of handing these out as 
required, and attending to those that needed repair. In addition to 
the copper tools, wicks and oil or fat were supplied to provide 
artificial lighting. Salt, it has been suggested, was added to prevent 
the wicks from smoking. 

The construction of the royal tomb was obviously a major 
undertaking, commenced as soon as a ruler ascended the throne. 
If the king's tomb was finished in good time, then the workforce 
was employed on tombs in the Valley of the Queens, and in some 
cases, on those of favoured courtiers. However, in most cases, the 

76 The background 

nobles had to obtain craftsmen from elsewhere and doubtless 
employed some of those artisans from Deir el-Medina who were 
unable to find a place on the royal gang. 

The workmen were also much concerned with their own burial 
places. Finds at Deir el-Medina indicate that many of the 
inhabitants were prosperous and had aspiring social ambitions. 
This is evident in the titles which they presumed to give 
themselves. They chose to be known as 'Servants in the Place of 
Truth'; tomb guardians sometimes called themselves by the title 
of 'Chief Guardian in the Place of Truth'; and in their own private 
inscriptions, scribes would often affect the personal description 
'King's Scribe in the Place of Truth'. There is never any indication 
that they were slaves, or even serfs, and although their total 
freedom of habitation and movement was evidently restricted, 
there is no indication that there was any strict regulation of their 
domestic lives or religious practices. 

Indeed, they had considerable opportunities to augment their 
income and attain a comfortable standard of living. They accepted 
commissions for private work, and such was the demand for tomb 
equipment and funerary inscriptions that they could regularly 
increase their income. They held privileged positions, and some 
were able to acquire their own expensive metal tools, to own land 
and livestock, and slaves. 

Their relative affluence is nowhere better illustrated than in 
their tombs which they built in the nearby cliffs. They devoted 
much of their spare time to these, which provide a valuable source 
of information, for, although the tombs were usually plundered, 
the walls, beautifully decorated with scenes of the deceased in 
the underworld in the company of the gods, provide information 
and frequently give the name and position held by the workman. 

The tombs were built on a basic plan, with a small open 
courtyard and a vaulted chapel surmounted by a brick pyramid 
topped with a pyramidion. At a time when the kings had 
abandoned pyramids in favour of rock-cut tombs, the wealthier 
necropolis workmen were incorporating miniature pyramids in 
their funerary monuments. A shaft in the courtyard led to an 
underground passage and a vaulted burial chamber. Stelae were 
set on the side of the mud-brick walls, and in the courtyard there 
was a large stela which commemorated the deceased and depicted 
his funeral. 

The tomb equipment included coffins, canopic jars, ushabtis, 

The towns of the royal workmen 77 

statuettes, furniture, clothing, jewellery, tools, pottery and stone 
vessels. The villagers made their own tomb equipment as well as 
that for sale to private buyers. Amongst themselves, they paid 
each other for required items. They also acted as embalmers and 
priests at each other's funerals. The tombs that have survived well 
date mostly to the early Ramesside period, when conditions were 
stable, but tombs were used at different periods for family burials 
and passed on in Wills. 

Indeed, sufficient documentary evidence exists to enable us to 
consider briefly some of the legal aspects of the community. 

In the New Kingdom, the two main centres of legal 
administration in Egypt were the High Court, situated at the capital 
city and presided over by the vizier; and the local court (Kenbet) 
which was composed of certain categories of people and which 
dealt with many of the less major crimes that did not require the 
death penalty. At Deir el-Medina, the village had its own Kenbet. 
It settled all civil matters and the less important crimes, and could 
deal with even more serious crimes, although the vizier had to 
give a final judgment and apply capital punishment if necessary. 

The Kenbet at Deir el-Medina consisted of special categories of 
workmen who were considered to be responsible and of some 
significance — the scribes, foremen and deputies, the tomb 
guardians and some selected ordinary workmen. The Kenbet was 
mainly concerned with cases which centred around non-payment 
for goods or services. An individual would conduct his own case; 
the court's decision was not final, however, and a dissatisfied 
petitioner could appeal to the gods, by means of an oracle, for 
another decision. Difficulties were encountered in enforcing the 
payment of debts, and the court appointed the tomb door-keepers 
to attempt to exact these payments as one of their various duties. 
The police were not members of the court, but helped to uphold 
the law in the community. They also made arrests and ensured 
that the accused appeared in court. Another duty of the court was 
to register deeds of gift or divisions of property. The Kenbet would 
have sat at times when the workmen were not required at the 
tomb. Its existence shows the degree of autonomy given to the 
royal workmen who were allowed to conduct their own judgments 
and punishments for all except the most serious crimes. 

The literary evidence from Deir el-Medina also illustrates the 
situation regarding domestic law — marriage, divorce, inheritance 
and ownership of property. It is clear that the wife was equal to 

78 The background 

her husband under the law and retained full control of her own 
property, whether she acquired it by inheritance before or after 
her marriage. Her rights to a share of the marital property were 
also assured. 

Perhaps the most famous legal conflict which affected the 
inhabitants of the west bank and the village centred on the major 
tomb robberies of the 20th Dynasty. At this period, the economic 
conditions in Egypt had begun to deteriorate. Delays in the 
payments of the workers' rations increased, and in addition, 
Libyan raiders were constantly causing problems for the people 
settled on the west bank. For example, under the rule of King 
Ramesses IV, it was recorded that there was, in 'Year 1,1st month 
of the winter season, Day 3, no work out of fear of the enemy'. 

Troubled times led to an unprecedented spate of tomb robberies, 
and the Tomb Robbery Papyri preserve the account of the 
associated legal proceedings and also, the social background of 
intrigue and unrest. One major robbery took place before Year 9 
of Ramesses IX (c. 1117 BC) and involved the violation of the 
tomb of Ramesses VI, but none of the thieves who were caught 
and punished included any of the residents of Deir el-Medina. 

However, also in the reign of Harnesses IX, tomb-robbers, 
organised into a gang, plundered the tombs of some of the nobles, 
of some of the kings of the 17th Dynasty, and some situated in the 
Valley of the Queens. The conflict of interests, and accusation 
and counter-accusation which passed between the Mayor of 
Thebes-west and the Mayor of Thebes-east over this case makes 
fascinating reading even thousands of years later. However, 
culprits were finally brought to justice; they were in fact employees 
of various temples in the area, and not the royal workmen, but 
further evidence finally implicated members of the community. 
Eight royal necropolis workmen, including senior members of the 
gang, were arrested, and held at the Temple of Ma c at at Thebes. A 
house-to-house search at Deir el-Medina finally enabled the 
authorities to recover the stolen goods. The lists of the men from 
whose houses the goods were removed provide useful information 
not only concerning the robberies, but also because they give an 
idea of the range of occupations held by the villagers. The trials 
which ensued were followed up by a change in the administration 
of the community, and the senior workmen — the chiefs and their 
deputies — were replaced by men drawn from the ordinary 

The towns of the royal workmen 79 

Although the workmen were probably not the instigators of the 
royal tomb robberies, they were undoubtedly implicated. Once 
the tombs were opened and plundered, they took a share of the 
treasure, and in some cases advised the robbers of the exact 
whereabouts of particular tombs. 

The area was restored to order by Year 19 of Harnesses XI, and 
the royal mummies with their remaining treasures were collected 
and reburied together in two caches, but the position of the 
community subsequently declined. Ramesses XI built the last royal 
tomb at Thebes, and thereafter, the reason for the village's existence 
and importance disappeared. 

We must now turn briefly to another important aspect of the 
community's life. The necropolis workmen at Deir el-Medina 
set much store by their religious beliefs and practices. In this, 
they exhibited the same general attitudes as all other inhabitants 
of ancient Egypt, for it was a society in which religion played a 
major role. Indeed, religion permeated most aspects of the 
civilisation. However, in the workmen's communities, it is 
possible to consider the more personal devotions which were 
followed by the workmen and their families. It is also important 
that these were the practices carried out by the men and women 
of the community during their lifetime, and not the customs 
which were primarily associated with death and the funerary 
cult. Evidence of such beliefs provides a valuable insight into a 
special aspect of Egyptian religion. 

The Egyptians worshipped a pantheon of gods. In the earliest, 
prehistoric times, every village possessed its own local deity, 
worshipped by the chieftain and the community. As the country 
became unified politically, the deities of the various towns and 
villages were also gradually amalgamated, so that, although an 
individual might still offer his prayers to one god or a small number 
of gods, the 'official' pantheon came to include many deities. Some 
of these gods, who survived because their worshippers were more 
powerful than their opponents, adopted the characteristics and 
attributes of the conquered deities who were ultimately 

By the Old Kingdom, powerful groups of gods had evolved, 
supported by their own priesthoods. There was considerable 
rivalry between the various priesthoods, especially concerning 
the role of their own particular supreme god in the creation of the 
universe. Each priesthood tried to emphasise the importance of 

80 The background 

its own god as the prime creator from whom all else had been 

To simplify a complicated subject, it is possible to classify the 
gods of ancient Egypt into three main categories. Some gods, of 
whom the solar god, Re c , is the first example, became so powerful 
that they came to be regarded as 'state gods'. These deities often 
enjoyed royal patronage, and indeed, their priesthoods were not 
infrequently involved in selecting and supporting a particular line 
of kings. Other similar gods, including Osiris and Isis, had 
widespread popular support as well as royal acceptance. All these 
deities received cults in the great state temples of Egypt, where 
the king or his deputy, the high-priest, approached the god, 
embodied in a statue, with ritual offerings of food, drink, clothing 
and other goods, in order to obtain certain benefits, such as 
longevity and prosperity, for himself and his people. A number of 
state gods existed at any one time, but usually, one was singled 
out for royal preference. The kings often elevated to this position 
the deity who had been the important local god of their own region. 
Thus, we have seen how Amun became the state-god of the kings 
of the 12th Dynasty. As a Theban god, he now achieved even greater 
power under the kings of the 18th Dynasty, who had formerly 
been princes of Thebes. 

The second category were 'local gods'. Many of these were 
obviously derived from the old tribal deities who had been all- 
powerful in predynastic times. In later times, these gods received 
worship in local temples dedicated to them and were served by 
their own priests. The temples and the rituals were basically the 
same as those enjoyed by the state-gods, although the temples were 
smaller, owned less land, and did not have national importance. 

Both the state-gods and the local gods were regarded as divine 
beings, with almost human needs, who lived in their 'houses' 
(temples) and were attended to by their 'servants' (priests). On 
certain occasions throughout the year, each god had a festival to 
mark some important event in his mythology. Then, the god's 
statue would be paraded outside the temple sanctuary and the 
people of the town and area would become onlookers, enjoying 
the spectacle of the festival, when the shaven-headed priests with 
their white robes and incense burners accompanied the god's 
procession. However, for most of the year, these gods played no 
direct part in the people's lives and their personal prayers and 
worship were addressed to another group of deities. 

The towns of the royal workmen 81 

This third group, which undoubtedly received widespread 
attention, are called 'household gods', because, unlike the state 
and local gods, they possessed no temples or priests but were 
worshipped in people's homes. Some of them are known to us 
from the amulets — magical charms or tokens which were carried 
around in life and placed amongst the funerary goods in death. 
Some amulets take the form of household gods, to protect the 
wearer in those crises of life which almost everyone encountered. 
Thus, the goddess of childbirth and fecundity — Tauert — is 
frequently seen, and also the god of marriage and jollification, 
Bes, whose goodwill was essential for a happy life. 

The stone temples dedicated to the state and local gods have 
frequently survived, and their wall reliefs, illustrating rituals and 
events in the gods' lives, provide an insight into the role of these 
deities. However, the household gods, widely revered and the 
undoubted objects of intense personal piety, have no such 
memorials in stone. They also feature less frequently in the 
traditional funerary equipment and official mythology, and 
evidence concerning these gods and the nature of their worship 
must usually be sought in the towns and villages once occupied 
by the living. 

Discovery and excavation of such sites is rare, and of those yet 
explored, the workmen's communities figure largely amongst those 
to be considered. One major problem, therefore, in studying the 
religious artefacts from these sites is how to decide whether the 
material from Amarna, Deir el-Medina and Kahun is peculiar to 
them, as special workmen's villages, or whether it is a fair 
reflection of personal religious belief and practice in most living 
communities of ancient Egypt. Since one assumption holds that 
numbers of foreigners lived in the workmen's towns, we must 
consider whether the statues and other religious artefacts found 
at these sites give any indication of this. This problem will be 
considered more closely in relation to the Kahun evidence. 

At Deir el-Medina, there were various religious buildings of some 
importance. There were several large temples to the north and north- 
east of the village, and chapels to various gods were carved into the 
cliffs near the village. In the temples and the chapels, there were 
stelae, statues and offering tables dedicated to various deities. 
Dedications were also made to deceased relatives on offering tables 
and on stelae, placed in the chapels or in the houses. Ancestral 
busts, placed in the houses, were the subject of family devotion, 

82 The background 

but it is unclear whether this was a custom unique to Deir el-Medina, 
or whether it was also common elsewhere. From these domestic 
cults, it is also evident that, here, Osiris and Isis, the deities who 
had enjoyed widespread worship since the Middle Kingdom, were 
largely replaced by Amun and Hathor. 

The personal role which Amun or Amen-Re c played at Deir el- 
Medina is especially interesting. In the New Kingdom, he was of 
course the great state god of Egypt, who had gained the empire for 
the king, and who took on a supreme role both as the creator not 
just of the Egyptians but also of their subjects, and as king of the 
gods. His splendid temple at Karnak on the east bank at Thebes 
was unparalleled in size and magnificence. Yet, at Deir el-Medina, 
he received the personal prayers and devotion of the workmen 
and their families, and was regarded as protector of the weak and 
poor, and the arbiter of divine justice. A temple was dedicated to 
him here, as were most of the stelae. 

Another important cult at Deir el-Medina was that dedicated to 
the deified king, Amenophis I, and his mother, Ahmes-Nefertari. 
Although the village was actually founded by Tuthmosis I, the 
workmen regarded Amenophis I as their patron, perhaps because 
he established the royal workforce. A temple was dedicated to 
him and he is shown being worshipped on many tomb walls and 
stelae. Although some other kings received cults in the New 
Kingdom, that of Amenophis I was of special significance here. 

Three popular deities were Hathor, Bes and Tauert. Here, Hathor 
became a goddess associated especially with domestic ritual, 
although, in general, she enjoyed great popularity on the west 
bank at Thebes, being represented as a cow-goddess and associated 
with Isis, Egypt's great mother-goddess. She had a shrine at the 
Temple of Hatshepsut at nearby Deir el-Bahari, and Sethos I erected 
a large chapel to her near the village. Other goddesses who were 
also sometimes identified with her occur at Deir el-Bahari. 
Mertetseger, the necropolis, serpent goddess often shown as a 
cobra, was identified both with Hathor and with the Teak of the 
West', the personification of the tip of the cliffs which tower above 
the Theban necropolis. Rennout, another goddess, was also 
identified with Hathor, and received a cult here. 

Bes, the ugly dwarf-god who received widespread although 
humble worship, was originally mentioned in the Pyramid Texts 
of the Old Kingdom. Although he may have originated in Ethiopia 
or Asia, his existence in Egypt was long-established and by the 

The towns of the royal workmen 83 

New Kingdom he had gained a considerable following. He was 
regarded as the devoted guardian of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, 
and he was believed to assist at childbirth, as well as protecting 
the young and the weak. He was also present at the circumcision 
ceremony, and fought evil forces, using music, singing and dancing 
as his weapons. He is sometimes shown playing a drum or other 
instrument, and always wears a hideous mask, often painted blue. 
Many figures of Bes were found at Deir el-Medina, and it is obvious 
that he played an important role there. 

The third deity, Tauert, was also widely worshipped. She 
symbolised the waters of chaos out of which the world was 
believed to have been created. She was the goddess of childbirth, 
and was associated with Meshkent, the personification of the birth 
bricks on which women were delivered. Tauert appears as a figure 
with the body of a hippopotamus, and the head of a woman, a 
lion, or a crocodile; sometimes she has the tail of a crocodile. 

Other deities at Deir el-Medina included Anubis, the jackal- 
headed god of embalming who roamed the necropolis; Thoth, the 
god of writers, builders and architects, represented as an ibis or a 
baboon; the crocodile god, Sobek; Re-Harakhte, a form of the sun- 
god; Ptah, the patron god of craftsmen; and the Aten, the solar 
deity who was the object of King Akhenaten's exclusive 
monotheism towards the end of the 18th Dynasty, but who was 
probably just one of many gods worshipped at this village. Osiris 
and Isis are also featured, as well as gods from the Cataract region 
of Elephantine — the ram-headed god Khnum, and the goddesses, 
Anukit and Satit. Foreign Asiatic gods were popular in Egypt 
during the New Kingdom, reflecting the generally cosmopolitan 
attitudes, and are represented at Deir el-Medina by Reshep, a war 
god, and the fertility goddesses, Qudshu, Anat and Astarte. 

This wide range of gods therefore perhaps indicates the 
cosmopolitan nature of the community; the gods of any foreign 
residents were simply, in the usual Egyptian fashion, included in 
the pantheon. Thus, loyalty to one's own god, albeit of foreign 
origin, in no way affected an individual's acceptance of the 
Egyptian state gods. Another important feature was loyalty to the 
founders of the community, and despite a remarkable diversity of 
gods, the inhabitants of the village were obviously sincere and 
pious in their devotions. 

The forms this worship took can be reconstructed, to some 
degree, from the physical and literary evidence. Of particular 

84 The background 

interest was the existence of an oracle at Deir el-Medina. The use 
of the oracle is well attested in the great temples, but at Deir el- 
Medina, it was the deified king, Amenophis I, who was consulted 
regarding the community's problems. His decisions were sought 
on such diverse matters as personal quarrels and family concerns, 
as well as definitive judgments on cases associated with the local 
law court. A petitioner could seek his answer in place of or 
subsequent to a ruling by the Kenbet. 

The physical arrangements for working the oracle centred 
around the priests. The workmen acted as their own priests in the 
cults of the community, and performed the rituals for all the gods. 
For the oracle, certain workmen acted as priests and were 
responsible for the official maintenance of the cult — manipulating 
the oracle, keeping the god's sanctuary in order, and attending 
the god's festivals. To 'work' the oracle, the god's statue was held 
by the priests, in front of the petitioner. They manipulated it to 
move, from one side to another or up or down, so that the god's 
statue could indicate its reply to the question posed by the 

In the household shrines, filled with stelae and offering tables, 
lamps, water jars, braziers and vases, the family worshipped their 
selected gods with sacred rites. These, like the rituals in the great 
temples, doubtless included offering food, pouring out libations, 
and burning incense before the god's image. The village also 
enjoyed festivals, when the statues would be carried by the priests 
in procession through the village, and these occasions seem to 
have been times for meditation as well as rejoicing. The community 
also probably took part in some of the great state festivals of Thebes, 
when Amun's statue came from Karnak to visit the temples on 
the west bank. 

Further insight into the personal feelings and devotion of the 
workmen has been revealed by the study of the memorial stelae 
erected by the workmen in the chapels. These appeal to various 
gods, and in some instances indicate humility and gratitude for 
recovery from an illness which was believed to have been brought 
about by the workmen's own misdemeanours. 

The idea that an individual should be humble before his god 
because of his sins is not one that is widely found in Egyptian 
religion. However, in a study of this aspect of the religion, based 
on the material from Deir el-Medina (B. Gunn, 'Religion of the 
Poor in Ancient Egypt', in Journal of Egyptian Archeology 3 (1916), 

The towns of the royal workmen 85 

81-94), it was shown that the people approached their gods, 
confessed their sins and appealed for mercy. 

Some of these prayers occur on documents; others are on the 
memorial stones from the necropolis. A most interesting stela, 
now in the British Museum, was discovered in one of the small 
brick temples dedicated to Amun, which was used by the 
necropolis workmen. The stela was dedicated to Amun by one of 
the draughtsmen, Nebre, and his son, Kha c y; it gives thanks for 
the return to health of Nekhtamun, another of Nebre's sons. 
Another stela, dedicated to the god Haroeris by Nebre, the son of 
Pay, asks the god to let mine eyes behold my way to go'. It has 
been suggested that this may be a plea for a cure of blindness, or 
perhaps to receive spiritual enlightenment. Another stela 
addressed to the goddess of the Peak by Nekhtamun, scribe of the 
necropolis, states 'Thou causest me to see darkness by day.' 
Blindness was probably a fairly common condition and Gunn 
indicates that phrases suggesting blindness occur frequently in 
these prayers. He questions whether this frequency was because 
blindness was an almost occupational hazard for men engaged in 
decorating the badly lit tombs, or whether blindness in particular 
was regarded as a punishment for impiety, for which prayers had 
to be offered to the gods. 

It is not clear how the petitioners had transgressed. Some 
examples, however, suggest that swearing falsely by the deity's 
name was regarded as an offence. One record states: T am a man 
who swore falsely by Ptah, Lord of Truth. And he caused me to 
behold darkness by day.' In another instance, a certain Nefer c abu 
was punished with sickness, which was later withdrawn, for his 
'transgression against the Peak' (the Goddess of the Peak). 

Whatever the nature of the supposed sins, it is clear that the 
community regarded these transgressions as serious offences 
which incurred the god's wrath, and which were punished directly 
by illness. However, prayers and contrition could persuade the 
deity to withdraw the sickness. 

The workmen of Deir el-Medina were literate because of their 
occupations, and could make inscribed stelae, which have 
preserved their religious sentiments. These men were, therefore, 
in a special category. However, some other prayers and hymns of 
the same period indicate that these ideas were not held exclusively 
by the inhabitants of Deir el-Medina. It perhaps formed part of a 
popular religious development during the later New Kingdom, 

86 The background 

and Gunn has suggested that the ideas of divine mercy and man's 
dependence on it may have been introduced into Egypt by Syrian 
immigrants. Alternatively, these ideas may always have been part 
of popular faith, but did not find expression in the written form 
before this period. This aspect of the religion nevertheless provides 
an insight, unparalleled elsewhere, into the beliefs of the 

The literacy of the members of this community is in fact attested 
by the wealth of literary ostraca and papyri which have been 
discovered at Deir el-Medina. The Greek word ostracon (plural 
ostraca) means 'potsherd', but in Egyptology it usually refers to 
the sherds of pottery or limestone flakes which, as cheap 
substitutes for papyrus, were used for writing and drawing. Broken 
clay pots from the houses and limestone flakes from the nearby 
cliffs provided the people of Deir el-Medina with a ready supply 
of writing material, and many thousands of ostraca were 
discovered in the rubbish heaps of the village by the archaeologists 
Schiaparelli, Moeller and Bruyere. Most of these date to the 18th- 
20th Dynasties, and many are now in the Turin and Berlin 

They are generally inscribed in the cursive form of the Egyptian 
language known as 'Hieratic', and probably a large proportion of 
the male population of the village, and not just the scribes, were 
literate in Hieratic, if not in the sacred picture writing, known as 
'Hieroglyphic'. Some of these ostraca were inscribed with official 
or semi-official records or accounts — bills, work diaries, reasons 
for absenteeism, inventories and so forth. Others, however, were 
obviously for private or teaching use, and included wisdom 
literature, to instruct youngsters in the required attitudes for 
advancement in the society; popular stories, of which one of the 
best known was the famous Middle Kingdom tale, the 'Story of 
Sinuhe'; hymns to deities; poems to the kings; love songs; and 
magical spells to protect the individual against various dangers. 

However, another class of ostraca is also of considerable interest. 
The so-called figured ostraca or pictorial sherds provide a unique 
record of the personal artistic expression of the workmen. These 
sketches are important because, unlike the official art in the tombs 
and the temples, they provide a rare insight into the artist's own 
imagination and wealth of ideas. At home in his village, the same 
man who was engaged in producing the traditional wall scenes in 
the royal tomb picked up a limestone flake, made his sketch, and 

The towns of the royal workmen 87 

later discarded the flake in the rubbish heap. For such drawings, 
the themes and motifs were of his own choice, and they often do 
not occur in the official art. He was also free to express his own 
artistic style, without the restrictions imposed by the rigid religious 
traditions on his official work. Again, in some cases, these pieces 
provide information about the training and techniques of the artist. 
Many of the ostraca are now held in museums in Cairo, Turin, 
Berlin, Stockholm, Brussels, New York, London, Paris and 

There were undoubtedly schools in the village for training the 
sons not only of the scribes but also probably of the ordinary 
workmen to write in Hieratic. There were also art lessons in which 
students, apprenticed as assistants to a master or taught in a group, 
learnt their basic skills; some of these figured ostraca are the 
students' trial pieces. The teacher would supply models which 
the pupils were required to copy. Most of the ostraca have designs 
in paint with only a very few examples in relief. These preliminary 
sketches would sometimes be corrected by the teacher. 

In addition to the novice pieces, there are also ostraca which 
show fully fledged artists' drafts; some of these are copies of the 
large tomb paintings, and as such, are examples of official art. 
These men used the same tools and materials for their sketches 
that they employed in their work in the tombs — primary colours 
derived from mineral paints and brushes made of reeds chewed 
at the tip. 

Some ostraca scenes, however, were personal doodles. Inspired 
by folklore and by the events of daily life, they introduced themes 
which are not found in the official art. Here we can see something 
of their vivid world — figures of gods, kings, musicians, dancers, 
their household decoration and furniture, sport, games, 
entertainment and even erotic scenes are all represented. 

A number of ostraca acted as substitutes for the large stelae 
which the wealthier inhabitants possessed. On these pieces, 
coloured religious scenes occur as well as invocations to various 
deities; the snake-goddess Mertetseger, Ptah, Thoth, Amun and 
Re c were especially popular. 

However, one group of figured ostraca has particularly captured 
the imagination of the modern student of Deir el-Medina. These 
show sketches in which animals are represented, posing, dressed 
and acting out roles as human beings. Various explanations have 
been offered for these. They can be regarded as illustrations of 

88 The background 

ancient animal folktales and perhaps particularly represent the 
story of the war between the Cats and the Mice, since quite a 
number show cats in service under the authority of lordly mice. 
However, it has also been suggested that these are in fact satirical 
sketches, with a much wider political significance, and that they 
reflect the workmen's own criticism of the social order, and their 
awareness, despite their relatively low status, of their own 

The range of animals in these sketches is wide, including most 
common types except sheep or pigs. They appear dressed as 
humans and they walk upright; they also act out human 
situations — offering flowers, food and drink; dressing their hair; 
playing musical instruments; taking part in religious processions; 
nursing their young in shawls; doing accounts; playing games; 
working in the kitchen; drinking beer; and sitting in judgment. 
They also use human language but no texts of stories have 
actually survived to accompany these scenes. The ostraca may 
have been used in conjunction with oral versions of well-known 
stories, to illustrate more vividly the characters and events in 
the tale. 

The animal scenes occur mainly on ostraca, although three 
'satirical papyri' with similar themes (now in Cairo, London and 
Turin) have also been found. These animal ostraca have been 
found in larger numbers at Deir el-Medina than elsewhere, and 
although this may simply be due to the inhabitants' particular 
artistic ability or an accident of preservation, it is also perhaps 
possible to see something of the community's remarkable 
autonomy and independence of spirit in these scenes. Human 
foibles and social aspirations are expressed in the animal forms, 
and these are surely the forerunners of modern cartoons in which 
the 'underdog' ultimately triumphs. Whatever their real 
significance, the ostraca undoubtedly illuminate another aspect 
of the community. 

In general, the evidence from Deir el-Medina indicates that the 
workmen enjoyed a relatively good standard of living, with an 
income from their official work and also ample opportunity to 
augment this with private commissions. They had considerable 
legal and religious autonomy, with freedom to appoint the 
members of their own law court and the priests to serve their gods. 
When the occasion arose, they could bring work on the Pharaoh's 
tomb to a standstill, and, by a collective protest and withdrawal 

The towns of the royal workmen 89 

of their labour, they could force the authorities to obtain the 
overdue rations. 

However, they were also pious and devoted to their particular 
gods; and despite family feuds and legal wrangles, they were a 
close-knit community. To some extent, these characteristics were 
fostered by their physical, (environmental and social conditions, 
and although some of these elements were different at Kahun, 
and the documentation from there is comparatively limited, we 
should expect to see a community which shared at least some 
features with Deir el-Medina. 


The site of Gurob, or Medinet Gurob, was worked for over thirty- 
three years, but the first legitimate excavations were carried out 
there by William Flinders Petrie in two seasons, from 1888 to 1890. 
This was one of the excavations which was substantially financed 
by the Manchester textile merchant, Jesse Haworth. 

Like Kahun, Gurob lies in the Fayoum oasis, some 25 miles 
west of the Nile on the edge of the desert, and a short distance 
west of Bahr Yusef. This site consists of the remains of the town 
of Mi-wer and of an earlier foundation, Southern She, as well as 
the associated cemeteries. 

Petrie assumed that the occupation of the site lasted from the 
18th to the 19th Dynasty, and although there may have been limited 
settlement here in the 1st Intermediate Period, it was the 
foundation of a temple at Gurob by Tuthmosis III that established 
it as a major town. Doubtless, houses were built here at this time 
for the workmen engaged on the temple, although little evidence 
was found of these. The temple was subsequently dismantled, 
except for the foundation stones, either before the end of the 18th 
Dynasty, when this may have been carried out on the orders of 
King Akhenaten as part of his religious revolution, or, more 
probably, by Ramesses II for his own buildings at Ahnas. Houses 
were then built, with apparently no preconceived system or 
arrangement, over the remaining blocks of the temple. These, Petrie 
suggested, were occupied by the masons who had dismantled the 

From the time of Akhenaten until the reign of Merenptah (some 
146 years), the town was occupied continuously. Petrie believed 
that the fall of the town began in the early part of the Merenptah's 

90 The background 

reign, when, in Year 5, he led a great campaign against the Libyans, 
and drove them from Egypt, where they had already penetrated 
to the south of the Fayoum. As a result, Petrie suggested, the foreign 
inhabitants of Gurob were expelled during this war. However, other 
evidence seems to indicate that Gurob was still flourishing in the 
reigns of Ramesses IV and V, and it is more likely that famine and 
a decline in the cultivation in the area finally drove the inhabitants 
to new homes. 

Various interpretations have been offered regarding the purpose 
of the site. One archaeologist, Bruyere, regarded it as a workmen's 
town inhabited by artisans, but the physical evidence — the random 
arrangement of the houses — indicates that, unlike Kahun, Amarna 
or Deir el-Medina, it was not built at one time for a specific reason 
nor to a pre-arranged plan. The houses were casually built amongst 
the ruins of the temple, and there is no evidence of an architect's 
scheme in their layout. 

The reason for the development of the town can be seen in the 
environment of the Fayoum. The pleasures of fishing and fowling 
here had been appreciated by the kings of the Middle Kingdom, 
and they had established a harem at Re-hone (Lahun). A royal 
harem was a pleasure palace built to accommodate the king during 
his visits around the country and each had its own staff and 
administration which, during the king's absence, continued to 

By the New Kingdom, the harem had been moved from Lahun 
to Gurob, which literary evidence has identified as the ancient 
town site of Mi-wer. The harem required its own permanent 
network of officials and administrators; artisans, servants and 
workmen were also needed, to look after the building and to 
cultivate the land belonging to the harem and to the temple. These 
men and their families were brought into the area, and 
accommodation was provided for them at Gurob. 

Thus, although Gurob, as a recreational centre for the king and 
court was state-controlled and developed because of a royal need, 
it differed from the other workmen's towns, built primarily to 
house royal necropolis workers. There was less rigid organisation 
and control, and security was not so important here as in a town 
associated with the royal tombs. However, the people of Gurob 
had to be housed and fed, and the archaeological evidence suggests 
that their everyday existence was probably not very different from 
that of the inhabitants of the necropolis workers' towns. 

The towns of the royal workmen 91 

The town buildings at Gurob were never completely planned 
or accurately reported, although excavation notebooks provide 
some additional information to the publications. Petrie's time at 
Gurob was fraught with difficulties. His relationship with the 
volunteer worker, Mr W.O.Hughes-Hughes, who carried on the 
excavation at Gurob while Petrie devoted himself to Kahun, was 
unsatisfactory, and illness prevented Petrie from returning to 
complete the site. Subsequently, the site was ransacked and 
although studies were made by various other archaeologists, the 
nature of the buildings — not conforming to a clear plan — and the 
somewhat chequered history of its investigation have posed 
considerable problems in reconstructing the layout of the town 
and the specific provenance of the articles found there. 

Petrie's work at Gurob, never completed and never published 
in full detail, appears to have centred on the town-site near the 
temple, and most of his finds came from the houses and surface 
rubbish of this area. The houses, some built before the dismantling 
of the temple, had begun to encroach on the temple enclosure, 
and with its destruction and the removal of the stone blocks, more 
houses were built over the temple site. 

His excavations also extended to some tombs of the 19th Dynasty 
situated to the north of the walled area of the town, and to the 
cemeteries of the New Kingdom and Ptolemaic periods west of 
the town. In addition to those found in the town, some of his 
finds were also from these tombs, but in many instances, the exact 
place of discovery of an object is not recorded. 

Despite these limitations, certain facts about the layout and type 
of architecture in the town have been established. It seems that 
the town site was surrounded by a large wall which formed a 
square enclosure. The second season at Gurob was supervised by 
Hughes-Hughes, because of Petrie's occupation with Kahun. 
Although his work was incomplete, it was evident that the temple, 
in its own enclosing wall, was surrounded by a great square 
enclosure. Nearly all the town dwellings, including the harem 
and palace, were restricted to these enclosures and few buildings 
were erected outside. The high quality of objects discovered in 
the dwellings over the temple ruins suggest that the harem 
remained here until the late 19th or even 20th Dynasty. After the 
harem, the temple was the most important feature of the town, 
supplying work for many people. Of the main temple, built by 
Tuthmosis III, very little survived, although it seems that 

92 The background 

Tuthmosis III himself and the crocodile god, Sobek, were probably 
both worshipped here. There was also probably a cult at Gurob to 
the Nile perch, since a large fish cemetery was discovered in the 
vicinity. In the Ramesside period, there was again almost certainly 
one temple, and possibly two, at Gurob, reflecting its significance 
as an important town. 

There is no evidence to confirm the arrangement of any street 
plan at Gurob; indeed, the houses seem to have been built 
randomly and expanded laterally, since there is no indication that 
rebuilding took place on the same foundations. The town was 
apparently divided into three areas, with a southern, main and 
northern section. Unlike the necropolis workmen's towns, no 
guardhouses or barracks were found at Gurob, again suggesting 
that surveillance of the population and visitors to the town was 
not considered necessary here. 

The intimate details of the houses — the overall number at the 
site, and the internal arrangement of the rooms — remain 
unrecorded. Originally, Petrie was of the opinion that the houses 
were relatively poor, with no coloured dados, no granaries, nor 
stairs leading to the roof. Again, because he discovered no intact 
examples, he concluded that the furniture was sparse. Only a type 
of pottery container, which Petrie discribed as a 'sort of fire-box 
or stove made of very rude pottery', was found. Similar examples 
were discovered at Kahun, Amarna and Deir el-Medina, and their 
use will be considered later. 

However, despite the paucity of furniture found in the houses, 
fragmentary pieces from Gurob indicate that they were originally 
furnished with chairs, stools, boxes and baskets to contain their 
smaller possessions, and headrests. There were also probably 
pottery storage vessels for food and water, beds, tables and floor- 
coverings, and the quality of these would have reflected the 
family's status. Petrie also later discovered granaries, although he 
does not indicate their exact location, and these were used as 
rubbish pits once their function as grain stores was finished. 

Altogether, the apparently low standard of housing at Gurob 
is more likely to be a modern misconception, based on the less- 
well-preserved structures found there. The houses and their 
furnishing were probably not unlike those at Kahun and other 
towns, although the random building pattern at Gurob may 
indicate that the inhabitants were expected to build their own 
dwellings. Consequently, the building materials and methods of 

The towns of the royal workmen 93 

construction may have been of a lower standard at Gurob than 
at those places where the planning and building of the town 
were supervised by the royal architect and the materials were at 
least in part supplied by the state. However, the poor preservation 
of the site and its history of excavation prevents further 
conclusions being drawn. 

Despite these drawbacks, sufficient evidence exists to give 
some idea of the lifestyle of the people of Gurob. Here, as 
elsewhere in Egypt, the majority of the population were engaged 
in agriculture, cultivating the land owned by the temple and the 
harem, and producing food for the officials and artisans of the 
town. Although relatively few agricultural implements have been 
discovered at Gurob, they suggest that life here was little different 
from Kahun, where a wealth of agricultural tools were uncovered. 
At Gurob, animals — sheep, goats, and oxen — were also kept, as 
well as domestic animals such as dogs and cats. Fishing, a major 
activity in the Fayoum, was also important at Gurob, both to 
supply food and also as a source of employment, for there is 
evidence that fishing nets and netting needles were manufactured 
here on some scale. Other crafts were also important to the 
community. Although no complete items of furniture were 
discovered, fragments of stools, chairs, boxes and headrests were 
found, and indicate that a woodworking industry existed at 
Gurob. Tools had to be made for this, and there was obviously a 
considerable production of metal implements in the town. A 
complete change is seen in the tools manufactured at Gurob from 
those found at Kahun. In the 12th Dynasty, flint-chipping was 
still a highly skilled art, which had lasted since predynastic 
times, and although the Middle Kingdom stone tools were 
influenced by the shape of the metal tools, they still greatly 
outnumbered the metal items. However, by the 18th Dynasty, 
this pattern was reversed, and the few flints which do occur are 
badly worked. On the other hand, the metalworking industry 
had developed considerably, and was now highly skilled and 
organised. The main metal was bronze, but copper was used for 
some items; there were also lead netsinkers, used for fishing, 
and gold and silver were employed for delicate pieces. 

The range of metal goods was now wide. Carpentry tools — adzes, 
axes, chisels, awls, borers, knives, rasps and nails — were found; 
hunting and fishing equipment included barbs, netsinkers, 
arrowheads and lance heads; metal jugs and pans for domestic 

94 The background 

use were also made. Some ornamental and decorative metal 
products also occurred, including rings, amulets, scarabs, kohl- 
sticks and tweezers. Tools were also manufactured for the stone- 
working industry, which utilised not only the readily available 
supplies of limestone and alabaster to produce domestic and 
cosmetic dishes and vases and funerary stelae, but also the stone 
for royal building projects. 

A major industry at Gurob was weaving. This was directly 
associated with the harem, and was under its jurisdiction. The 
archaeological and literary evidence suggests that this industry 
was very important at Gurob, and was highly organised. 

Papyrus fragments from Gurob, which date to the reign of Sethos 
II, make reference to the training of textile workers. The workers, 
some based at home while others were employed in workshops, 
were apparently given instruction and training by the state, which 
was also their employer. At Gurob they were directly responsible 
to the harem, and other papyri from here refer to garments and 
cloth which were kept in the stores at the harem, and sent to the 
king or to various houses. 

From the evidence, it seems that the ladies resident in the harem, 
far from leading lives of idle luxury, were, in many if not most 
cases, given the task of supervising and training the textile workers. 
It is unclear whether or not the royal women themselves engaged 
in the actual manufacture of the textiles, but their supervisory 
duties were undoubtedly undertaken seriously. The male Overseer 
of the Harem would have been responsible for the overall 
administration of this industry, and for the harem's special 

The weaving industry was obviously long-established at Gurob, 
for another piece of evidence — an ebony statuette found at Gurob, 
inscribed with the name of the Lady Teye, who bore the title 'Chief 
of Weavers' — dates to the reign of Amenophis III (c. 1430 BC). 

The development of weaving technology and evidence for this 
obtained from the sites of both Gurob and Kahun will be 
considered in more detail later, but the quality of the cloth 
produced by the weavers can still be seen in a pair of sleeves from 
a child's jacket which were discovered by Petrie, new and unused, 
in the clean sand filling of a 19th Dynasty tomb at Gurob. The 
cloth was in near-perfect condition and showed no signs of wear, 
and Petrie suggested that the sleeves may have been lost, while 
still new, by a labourer's wife as she sat down to rest on the sand- 

The towns of the royal workmen 95 

heap thrown up while the tomb was being dug. The sleeves are 
how housed separately at University College London and at the 
Manchester Museum. 

The textile industry employed people engaged in the various 
branches of sewing, spinning, weaving and net-making. Gurob, 
as a centre for fishing and fowling, produced large nets for bird- 
catching as well as smaller ones for fishing, and also netting 
needles of bone and wood to make the nets. Other discoveries 
indicated that rope-making and basketry were carried out there; 
flax, rush and palm fibre were used to make ropes, while palm 
leaves and fibres were turned into a variety of basketwork items. 

Pottery was produced at Gurob, as at all Egyptian sites. Some 
of it bears a marked resemblance to the pottery uncovered at 
Tell el-Amarna. In general, the coarser pottery was found in the 
town area, while the finer ware comes from the cemeteries. Glass 
manufacture was also important at Gurob and remains of factories 
and kilns were discovered. Decorative, multicoloured glass was 
produced, and turned into vases, perhaps used for perfumes and 
cosmetics, vessels for other purposes, and a range of beads, 
amulets, and earrings. Faience objects were also made, and 
included kohl-jars, beads, jewellery, scarabs, amulets and 

Generally, the objects found at Gurob indicate that the style 
and quality of life of at least some of the inhabitants were above 
average. This is not surprising, since Gurob was not only the town 
which was honoured with periodic visits by the king and his royal 
entourage, but also boasted many of its own officials and 
functionaries. Some of these held posts in the palace and harem, 
while others were town dignitaries, or held temple priesthoods. 
The names and titles of the more important officials are preserved 
on funerary stelae and equipment. 

These men and their families would have enjoyed the pastimes 
of wealthy Egyptians throughout the ages — hunting wild game in 
the desert, fishing and fowling in the marshes and entertaining 
their friends at banquets, where food and drink were lavish. Their 
wives, and indeed even the lower orders, adorned themselves with 
a wide range of cosmetics and jewellery, and there is ample 
evidence at Gurob that the women at the palace and elsewhere 
paid considerable attention to their appearance. 

The personal and toilet articles are more frequently encountered 
at Gurob than at Kahun, perhaps because the lifestyle was more 

96 The background 

sophisticated there, or because the tombs as well as the town at 
Gurob have delivered up a multitude of these items. 

Bronze mirrors have been found, some of which Petrie believed 
showed an Asiatic influence. He suggested that these could have 
been produced by a foreign artisan, trained in Egypt and resident 
at Gurob. Wooden combs, bone and wood hairpins, and a bronze 
hair-curler suggested that hairdressing was commonly practised 
here as elsewhere in ancient Egypt. Facial make-up was also 
popular; kohl was used to outline and enlarge the eyes, and was 
stored in vases which were tubular in form. These were usually 
made of wood, although examples in stone, reed and ivory are 
known, and the kohl was applied to the eyes with a kohl-stick. At 
Gurob, examples made of wood, haematite and even bronze have 
been found. Boxes, vessels and spoons were also made, to contain 
and handle the creams and ointments with which the Egyptians 
perfumed their bodies. 

The jewellery consisted of beads, bracelets, earrings and rings, 
in a variety of materials. The beads were found both in the 
excavations and on the surface of the site, left by the denudation 
of the soil. They were very varied in materials and style, but 
differed markedly from those found at Kahun. At Gurob, Petrie 
also noticed significant differences between those beads which 
he attributed to the 18th Dynasty and to the 19th Dynasty. The 
18th Dynasty beads were rarely made of glass, but contained a 
preponderance of glazed coloured pendants in the form of fruit 
and leaves, a style which had been introduced as part of 
Akhenaten's religious and art revolution, but which died out in 
the 19th Dynasty. Also, there were numbers of thin flat blue disc 
beads and pendants depicting gods — again styles introduced under 
Akhenaten. In the 19th Dynasty, however, all the beads were 
coarser and poorer, but there were new developments in glass 
beads which were now produced in clear as well as opaque glass, 
and in very different designs. Beads in multiple colours were 
common, and glass earrings were also manufactured as part of an 
important glass-making industry which had begun to develop in 
Egypt in the 18th Dynasty. 

Scarabs and rings were discovered in considerable numbers, 
many bearing the names of different kings. The large number of 
blue glazed faience rings were mass-produced, it has been 
suggested, to distribute to the people, as the king's gifts to mark 
special state occasions or royal visits. 

The towns of the royal workmen 97 

Evidence for life at Gurob is mainly material. Although there 
must have been a substantial collection of papyri — written 
records and administrative documents pertaining to the palace 
and the temple — very little indication of major scribal activity 
has survived. Only two writing palettes were uncovered, and 
the few papyri that have survived were not in such a good 
condition as those found at Kahun. The only royal name 
mentioned in the Gurob literature is that of Harnesses II; none of 
the papyrus rolls were sealed, and many had been crushed up 
for use as waste paper. 

It is, therefore, the artefacts from Gurob which most clearly 
illuminate the lifestyle of the inhabitants. The architectural 
remains do not permit us to draw many firm conclusions regarding 
the accommodation of the various levels of the society, or the 
disposition of the 'wealthy' and 'poor' areas within the town. 
However, it is evident from the finds that there were several quite 
distinct social categories, made up of the officials and 
administrators, the artisans and craftsmen, and the agricultural 
workers. This is borne out by the cemeteries at Gurob, which were 
excavated by Petrie and other archaeologists. They were extensive, 
because of the long occupation of the site, and were arranged 
around the town, stretching out for some distance into the desert. 
The cemeteries were organised into areas, according to the type 
of burial and the status of the occupant. There were differences 
not only in the type of construction of the tombs, but also in the 
amount and quality of the tomb goods; the cemeteries therefore 
illustrate not only the different periods of the town's occupation, 
but also its social divisions. 

It is evident that the town came to support several quite major 
industries, apart from the original reason for its foundation as a 
place of royal recreation. For many of these, the raw materials 
were at hand, but in some cases, they were perhaps brought in 
from outside. The resident population provided the market for 
some goods and services, whereas for others, most notably the 
textile production, some of the goods were produced for other 
parts of Egypt. 

It is therefore possible, from the finds, to reconstruct a fairly 
accurate picture of life in the town — the people's clothing and 
adornment, their food and drink, and the furnishing and equipping 
of their homes. 

The quality of everyday existence in all these ancient towns 

98 The background 

would have differed only in degree from one place to another, 
and, to some extent, according to an individual's social status. 
However, a common factor which has been claimed for some of 
these work-towns and which would distinguish them in a number 
of ways from other Egyptian settlement sites, is a substantial 
presence of resident foreign labour. Petrie claimed that this 
situation existed at both Kahun and Gurob, and the evidence for 
such a presence at both sites will be considered later. 




The Site and its Excavation 

The site of Kahun was excavated in two seasons by William 
Flinders Petrie, 1888-89 and 1889-90. Limited work was also 
carried out there by Petrie and Brunton in 1914. 

The town was built originally to house the officials and 
workforce engaged in the construction of the pyramid of King 
Sesostris II at Lahun in c. 1895 BC. Sesostris ordered a town to be 
built which adjoined the temple in which he was to be worshipped; 
both the town and the temple were given the name of 'Hetep- 
Sesostris', meaning 'Sesostris is satisfied'. The pyramid has already 
been described; it was built on a natural rock mass which was cut 
into the required shape, and the upper part was constructed of 
mud-brick. It was situated in the desert, about 805 km from the 
cultivation, and on its east side there was a small temple which 
was decorated with offering scenes to supply the king's spirit with 
sustenance after death. About half a mile away, opposite the east 
side of the pyramid and situated on the edge of the desert, a larger 
temple, also dedicated to Sesostris II, was built. These buildings 
formed the mortuary and valley temples usually seen in the typical 
pyramid complex. 

The king's more distant valley temple was surrounded on three 
sides by a massive brick wall, some 12.19 m in thickness, and 
lined with fine limestone blocks. It stood on a prominent rocky 
slope, just on the edge of the cultivation. Petrie's excavations here 
led him to the conclusion that the greater part of the temple area 
had been open, and that there was probably a colonnade around 
it, while at the back of the enclosure (west end) stood a chamber 
which had been decorated with fine wall reliefs. He also found 





. KAHUN v 


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FIGURE 3 Plan showing town of Kahun in relation to pyramid of Lahun (Petrie, 
Lahun II, pi. II). 

The site and its excavation 103 

the remains of some sandstone objects, and pieces of two statues 
of the king, one of which probably stood in the decorated chamber. 

However, the most exciting find made here was the discovery 
of foundation deposits which remained intact, buried under two 
blocks of stone in a hole about four feet deep which had been 
excavated in the rock. Four sets of these objects were found here, 
placed in the hole without any order or arrangement. In Egypt, 
foundation deposits were put underneath temples when work 
began on the building. A possible explanation for such deposits 
(which, in Petrie's day, had only previously been found in 
association with later Egyptian buildings) was that the spirit of 
the temple would require maintenance and repair and the tools 
were provided for the workmen's spirits to use in this respect. In 
each of the Kahun sets, there were seven model tools of bronze — 
chisels, knives and a hatchet; a pair of corn rubbers; strings of 
beads; a couple of pieces of green carbonate of copper ore; a piece 
of galena; a quantity of pottery vessels and some baskets. 

The temple doubtless fell into disrepair some time after Kahun 
ceased to be occupied, but it was apparently still standing in the 
18th Dynasty. However, its final destruction came in the 19th 
Dynasty, and debris of this date, presumably belonging to the masons 
who carried out these orders, was found at the site. The stonework 
was removed from the temple, at the instigation of Ramesses II, to 
be re-used in his own temple at Ahnas (Heracleopolis). The same 
fate befell the smaller temple which adjoined the east face of 
Sesostris II' s Lahun pyramid. That these blocks had been re- 
employed at Ahnas was confirmed for Petrie when he saw a granite 
column drum there, reused for Ramesses II, but bearing the Ka- 
name of Sesostris II. The temple area was subsequently deserted 
for thousands of years, but finally had a new use, this time as a 
Christian burial ground, in the 7th Century AD. 

At the north end of the larger of Sesostris IPs funerary temples, 
Petrie discovered another building, which he believed was a porter's 
lodge. It had a large room, in which a stone trough was let into the 
ground, with sloping stone slabs around it so that water could run 
down. Other similar troughs were found in the town of Kahun, and 
Petrie believed that they were provided for daily ablutions. To the 
north of this temple lay the pyramid work-men's town known as 
Kahun. A bay about 402 m across, formed by the sweep of the high 
ground, occupied the area north of the temple, and here the town 
was built. The buildings all lay in a slight hollow, and were enclosed 

104 The town of Kahun 

on three sides by a thick wall. This ran northwards from the end of 
the north side of the temple for about 402 m; it followed the edge of 
the bay and then fell down into the desert behind it. Then, it turned 
eastwards at right angles to enclose the town and then turned 
southwards for a short way. Thus, the town wall extended along 
the north, west and partly along the east sides, but on the south 
side, the site lay open to the Nile Valley. However, at the east wall, 
Petrie discovered the remains of a gateway, and this led him to the 
conclusion that, although the site now lay open to the south and 
along part of the eastern end the wall was also missing, originally 
Kahun had been completely walled on four sides. However, the 
south wall and over half of the east wall had since been entirely 
lost. Within the town, an area of high ground was cut back to form 
an elevated platform. This area, called The Acropolis' by Petrie, 
was used to accommodate an important building. 

In his two seasons, Petrie cleared over two thousand chambers 
which he believed comprised over three-quarters of the total extent 
of the town. In his first season, he probably cleared away only 
part of the western sector of the town, and an area in the middle 
of the eastern part. The remainder of the eastern section and the 
whole of the southern section were never excavated or planned, 
because Petrie considered them to be hardly worth any further 
efforts, since they had been so disturbed in Roman times. He was 
able to plan the whole of the extent of the town which was cleared; 
it was of particular interest, not only because this was the first of 
the royal workmen's towns ever to be uncovered, but also because 
it was the first occasion on which it had been possible to produce 
an almost complete plan of an Egyptian town. 

Kahun had been laid out on a regular plan, evidently by a single 
architect who was almost certainly the man also responsible for 
the king's pyramid at Lahun. It was rectangular in shape, 
surrounded by a thick brick enclosure wall and inside it was 
arranged in two sections. The eastern part was nearly as long as it 
was wide, and the western part, divided from the other by a thick 
wall, contained the smaller houses of the workmen. There was 
little difference in the date of these two sections. In fact, the wall 
separating the eastern and western sections probably marked a 
change in the ground level, with the western sector being 
somewhat higher. However, the division was also utilised to 
separate the wealthier quarters from the most concentrated area 
of work-men's houses. 

Tomb of Make[ 


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FIGURE 4 Plan of Kahun town. (Petrie, Illahun, Kahun and Gwob, p.l. XIV). 

106 The town of Kahun 

The streets and houses were laid out in regular lines, and in an 
arrangement so that access to the western blocks of houses could 
be easily guarded by a single watchman. The town divides readily 
into several main areas and can be considered in these sections. 
The most important part was the 'Acropolis'; because it was higher, 
it had been destroyed by denudation more than any other section. 
The buildings stood on a banked platform which was shored up 
with a massive retaining wall; from here, the occupants could 
gain an excellent view of the roofs of all the other houses in the 
town. The whole of the acropolis was occupied with one very 
large house; access was provided by a front entrance which led to 
those rooms which overlooked the town in an eastwards direction, 
while two smaller stairways provided entrance to the back rooms. 
These stairways showed very little evidence of wear, and had 
subsequently been filled up with the debris from the fallen walls. 
In some areas, Petrie had to remove as much as 3.04 m of rubbish 
in order to clear them. At the foot of the retaining brick wall of the 
acropolis, to the south, there was an open area with just one 
building which Petrie identified as a guardhouse. The Acropolis 
house was obviously important; Petrie discovered stone bases of 
columns and pieces of brightly painted dado in the rooms, but, at 
the same time, the place had obviously been deserted early in the 
town's history. The building was filled up with broken pottery 
and debris of the 12th Dynasty date, left there by the people of the 
town. The building's size, obvious significance, and physical 
elevation, which ensured that it could be easily guarded, led Petrie 
to infer that this was an official residence built for the king to rest 
when he visited the town to inspect the progress of the work on 
his pyramid at nearby Lahun. The pyramid was finished long 
before the town was finally deserted, and the acropolis residence, 
no longer used for the royal visits, fell into disuse. 

In general terms, the houses at Kahun included a number of 
elements; there were rooms used as a reception hall or living room, 
and harem or women's quarters, a room with washing or bathing 
facilities, and a kitchen, and there were also cellars and circular 
granaries. However, Kahun was a considerably more important 
centre than merely a place to house the pyramid workforce, and 
the wealth and status of some of its inhabitants — officials 
associated with the pyramid administration or temple — are 
evidenced by a number of large houses. Along the north wall, 
there were five great houses which were all built according to one 

The site and its excavation 107 

plan, with four of them joining in a row. The house entrance was 
from the street to the south; here there was a moderate-sized 
doorway with a stone lintel and facing it was a doorkeeper's room. 
The entrance provided three separate means of access to the rooms 
which lay beyond. By passing along a passage at the left-hand 
side of the entrance, the visitor reached the offices and other rooms 
where the master carried out his business, as well as the rooms of 
the men-servants and guests. 

In the centre of the house, behind these rooms, there lay a 
group of private chambers which opened on to a four-pillared 
hall. Behind this was a large area which, in the northernmost 
part, was open to the sky, while along the south ran a colonnade. 
This was the reception hall where the master entertained his 
visitors. The colonnade provided shade for him and his guests, 
who could reach this reception area directly from the street 
entrance by means of a large passage. Other rooms which could 
only be reached from the reception hall were used as the private 
chambers of the master and his family. These included the 
master's own court, which had a stone tank sunk in the middle 
of a paved floor. Although the roof area immediately above the 
tank was probably open to the sky, around it ran a roof supported 
by twelve columns. The tank provided a washing area for the 
master and his family, a place of refreshment in the centre of the 
house. The importance of these tanks, which may have been used 
for personal ablutions performed in connection with the religious 
family observations, is indicated by the fact that Petrie found 
similar tanks, but constructed as separate boxes of stone, let into 
mud floors in poorer dwellings. 

On passing through the main house entrance, another passage 
led off to the right and gave access to several small rooms and a 
columned hall. This area, with its own private entrance passage 
and direct access to the main reception hall, almost certainly 
comprised the harem, or women's quarters. 

Anyone visiting these houses would therefore be expected to 
take one of the three routes of entrance into the house according 
to his personal business. The total area of each house was 42.06 
m x 60.35 m, and each contained many rooms and passages. These 
were substantial dwellings, designed to fulfil the business and 
domestic requirements of the senior officials who lived there. They 
provided large, cool rooms, with their roofs supported by columns 
made of wood, with flat, wide stone bases. Some of these columns 

108 The town of Kahun 

were made of stone and were fluted or ribbed, with capitals 
decorated either with plain abaci or with the palm leaf form. The 
houses, similar to some found today in the Middle East, were 
conceived as oases of cool and shade protected from the glaring 
sun. They were centred inwards, away from the heat and dust of 
the streets, to the halls and colonnaded courts, where the master 
could entertain his guests. In the women's quarters, the family's 
privacy was maintained and the women occupied themselves with 
household matters and the rearing and education of the smaller 

On the south side of the town, there were three more great 
houses, which were exactly the same size as those on the northern 
row, but had somewhat different internal arrangements. The plan 
of these was difficult to determine, because they had been much 
altered in antiquity, by division into tenements and by the insertion 
of new doorways. However, the general arrangement seemed to 
be that the entrance opened into a vestibule with a column and, 
from here, a short passage led to the main rooms, while a longer 
one gave access to the back area of the house. Another passage led 
along the opposite side, from the middle of the house to storerooms 
at either end. Nine storerooms which formed a square block (three 
each way) were arranged as a complete unit against the street wall. 

To the south of the Acropolis, backing on to the thick wall which 
divided the town into east and west sections, were blocks of 
dwellings or stores which were built on one repeated plan. Some 
items were found here, including a set of copper chisels and 
hatchets in a basket, and a copper dish. Here, there were also rock- 
cut cellars, their entrances barred by stout wooden flap-doors, 
one of which was still found in position. The largest cellar which 
had two chambers was used as a family tomb in the 19th-20th 
Dynasties and was given the name of 'Maket's tomb'. The tomb, a 
rare example of an undisturbed burial, was carefully cleared, and 
Petrie describes in some detail his discovery and recording of the 
objects which he found. It was also in the middle block of this 
building that some of the papyri of the 12th and 13th Dynasties 
were uncovered. 

Behind the southern mansions, on the east, there lay five streets 
of workmen's houses. In each house there were about seven rooms. 
To the east of the southern mansions there were more workmen's 
dwellings. These were smaller, with only four rooms apiece. Petrie 
had difficulty planning these streets, because the southern end 

The site and its excavation 109 

had been completely erased by denudation and even in the part 
that he managed to plan, the remains of half the area were only a 
few centimetres deep. In several of the small streets he found 
evidence of a stone channel running down the middle of the street, 
which had originally sloped towards the centre. This was an early 
example of street drainage; the waste water from the houses and 
also the occasional rainfalls would have been removed by it, thus 
ensuring that the streets did not become muddy. Petrie believed 
that this system was probably in general use in all the streets of 
Kahun, and that, considering that this was not a capital city, the 
concept of street drainage must already have been a feature of 
other more important towns in Egypt. 

In the western division of the town, separated by its own thick 
wall, there were eleven streets containing workmen's houses, each 
of which had four or five rooms. It was five streets of this area that 
Petrie managed to plan and publish at the end of his first season. 
In these houses the rooms were grouped together, with one outer 
door to the street. The walls of the houses at Kahun were mainly 
built of mud-brick, and were of one storey, but the flat roofs were 
probably used as sitting areas and places to store fuel and straw. 
Each house had a series of steps leading to the roof-top, built in 
two parts, with a turn in the middle. 

Although Petrie found many of the walls standing, the upper 
parts, including the roofs, were usually destroyed. However, 
fragments of roof have been found and it is evident that most of 
the roofs would have been constructed of beams of wood on which 
poles were placed. Bundles or reeds or straw were then bound 
firmly on to these, and mud plaster was applied to the inner and 
outer surfaces. In some houses rooms were entirely roofed with a 
barrel vault of brickwork, and indeed, architecture at Kahun 
provides sufficient evidence that the arch was in common use in 
the Middle Kingdom. The method of constructing these arches 
may have been to fill the chamber with sand while work on the 
brick vault was in hand, and then to clear the sand away once the 
roof was finished. 

The doorways had semicircular arches of brick spaced with 
chips of limestone, while there were wooden door-cases, 
thresholds, doors and door bolts. The door pivots were arranged 
quite differently from those used in later times. Stone sockets were 
placed against wooden door sills; the door pivot passed down 
inside the socket and rested on a block of wood beneath it. 

110 The town of Kahun 

The physical arrangement of the rooms was obviously pre- 
planned, the architect making use of round numbers of cubits. 
The design of the houses followed a repetitive plan in each block 
and it is evident that the houses and the sections of the town were 
carefully constructed to meet specific official requirements. 

Inside the houses, columns were used to support the roofs over 
the larger rooms. The marks left by these on their stone bases 
indicate that they were octagonal in shape and were probably of 
wood. An entry in Petrie's/oumaifor 24-31 October 1889, records 
his discovery of one of these columns: 

At last I have a piece of one of the octagonal wooden 
columns of which I have so often seen the marks on stone 
bases in the chambers. It is of a hard dark brown 
wood. . .about a foot high remains of it, the upper part 
having been burnt away. 

Many granaries were also found; these were conical in shape and 
built of brick, plastered on both the inner and outer surfaces. They 
were frequently found in pairs, in the room of the house which 
was used as the kitchen. There was no one place built to take the 
fire and it was generally situated at one side of the room, in a 
slight depression in the floor. 

The inside walls of the best rooms of the houses were frequently 
mud-plastered and painted with a dado. On to the smoothly 
plastered surface a series of coloured borders were painted — a 
dark colour or black in the lowest area, and then, between three 
and five feet above, black and red lines on a white ground. Above 
this, the wall was covered with a yellow wash. However, some 
wall decorations were more elaborate. In two of the workmen's 
houses behind the southern mansions, paintings were found with 
the subjects coloured in red, yellow, white and black paint. One 
illustrates a large house showing, at the bottom level, the outside 
of the building, while the upper level is cut away to reveal the 
interior. The house is represented as having a series of arched 
chambers, and may depict one of the brick-vaulted buildings in 
the town. The interior scene shows the master being attended to 
by his servant. The painting in the other house depicts a strange 
building with columns of a form which Petrie claimed was 
unknown anywhere else in Egypt. 

Petrie's work at Kahun required his continuing and dedicated 

The site and its excavation 111 

attention. He was allowed to use the inspection house at Illahun 
as his base, and his devotion to the task at Kahun meant that much 
of the work at Gurob (the other site which engaged his attention 
at this time) was carried out under the supervision of Mr 
W.O.Hughes-Hughes who took on the excavations there in 
November 1889. In January 1890, Petrie's second season and his 
work at Kahun drew to a close; with the exception of the eastern 
side of the town, he had finished clearing the site by the end of 
December 1889. About this time also, Hughes-Hughes had 
completed his task at Gurob, and in March 1890 Petrie left Egypt. 
He published the results of these excavations in two volumes, 
Kahun, Gurob and Hawara (1890), and Illahun, Kahun and Gurob 

The cost of these excavations was largely borne by Jesse Ha 
worth and Martyn Kennard, and, towards the end of his second 
season at Kahun, in his Journal entry for 30-31 December 1889, 
Petrie states: 

I do not expect that my friends (i.e. Haworth and Kennard) 
will hear of anything more now from Kahun and Gurob; the 
places are done for, and well have they repaid us, by the 
insight we have gained in the life and manufactures of the 
18th and 12th Dynasties. I have now really outlined the 
greater part of the long blank of hitherto undefined history 
of domestic and personal objects, which had been such an 
attractive unknown region to me. If I can now do the 6th, 4th 
and possibly earlier times, in as complete a way in future, I 
shall accomplish what has been my particular aim in Egypt. 

Petrie's ambitions were later to be realised, but at Kahun he had 
an early opportunity to develop his own special, painstaking 
methods of excavation. Altogether he cleared more than 2000 
chambers in his two seasons, and each had to be measured and 
entered in a working plan which he kept. His method of working 
was to clear all the rooms in one block of houses along a street 
front. The earth was removed from them on to the street. He next 
cleared the line of rooms further in, and into the first set of rooms 
(which had by now been planned and recorded) he then emptied 
the debris from the second set. In this way, he not only devised a 
system of ensuring that every object was uncovered, but also that 
the buildings were filled in and covered over again, so that the 

112 The town of Kahun 

brick walls were preserved. He refers to this method of working 
in his Journal for 8-15 April 1889, where he says: 'I am planning 
all the chambers as we go on; and shall have a complete survey of 
the place.' 

In addition to his systematic method of clearing the chambers, 
he also took the precaution of sounding the floors of the rooms 
with a rod to see if they concealed any hollows or pits which had 
been filled in. This precaution was rewarded by the discovery 
not only of objects, but also of baby burials, which he records 
thus in his Journal (8-15 April 1889): 

Many new-born infants were found buried in the floors of 
the rooms, and, strange to say, usually in boxes made for 
other purposes evidently, by their form. In short, unlucky 
babes seem to have been conveniently put out of the way 
by stuffing them into a toilet case or clothes box and 
digging a hole in the floor for them. . .1 fear these 
discoveries do not reflect much credit on the manners and 
customs of the small officials of the 12 Dynasty. 

Possible explanations for this custom at Kahun will be considered 

At Kahun, Petrie also devised a method of paying his workmen 
who assisted in the excavations. Every chamber, when cleared, 
was carefully measured and marked in on the general plan which 
Petrie kept in his notebook; these plans, together with 
triangulation, eventually enabled him to draw up the general 
scheme of the corner of the town and temple. The men were each 
paid Vz piastre for one cubic metre of a cleared chamber, which, 
in the late 1880s, worked out at the English equivalent of a little 
under one penny a yard. They were paid additional sums for 
everything which they uncovered and brought to Petrie, and top 
prices were given for finds of papyri or bronze tools. 

According to Petrie, the archaeological evidence indicated that, 
at the site of Kahun there were two periods of occupation. The 
first, which perhaps lasted about a century, started with the 
foundation of the town in the reign of King Sesostris II in the 12th 
Dynasty (c. 1895 BC) and finished towards the end of the 13th 
Dynasty, long after Sesostris II had been buried in his pyramid at 
Lahun and the area had ceased to be used for royal burials. We 
shall consider the possible reasons for the desertion of Kahun 

The site and its excavation 113 

later. However, the foundation and construction of most of the 
buildings, and the date of the majority of objects of daily use found 
at Kahun, can be assigned to this first period. Petrie was able to 
identify the town as a 12th Dynasty foundation because of a 
number of factors. First, its position adjoining and built square 
with the temple of Sesostris II and the fact that it was laid out at 
one time by a single architect, convinced him of its date. Also, 
various distinctive artefacts were found there; these included the 
papyri; the alabaster objects which showed the quality of the 12th 
Dynasty; the stelae and offering tables of that period; pottery unlike 
that of any other period of which he was aware; the ivory castanets 
which resembled those of a similar date which had been found at 
Thebes. These all persuaded him that this was a town built and 
occupied in the Middle Kingdom. 

However, he also believed that Kahun was briefly inhabited 
during the New Kingdom in the reign of Amenophis III; numbers 
of objects of this later date were found at the site, but he considered 
that only some of the rooms in the western quarter (the original 
'workmen's area') were now re-occupied. 

Until recent years, virtually nothing remained to be seen of the 
town site, which has been completely covered over by drifting 
sand. Even in Petrie's time, the site had already suffered 
considerable denudation. The height of the walls which Petrie 
excavated would have varied in different places, probably from 
one to ten courses of bricks. In the south part, because of severe 
denudation and the encroaching cultivation, there would have 
been few remaining traces to assist Petrie in his planning of the 
site. Nevertheless, the results of the excavations, despite the 
difficulties imposed by the working conditions, were remarkable; 
they revealed, both in the written records and in the property left 
behind in the houses, many aspects of the religious, civil, and 
domestic life of the town. Nearly all the excavated possessions of 
the town's inhabitants were objects of daily use, and these 
provided a unique illustration of the domestic conditions and 
current technologies of the period. 

Today, a new archaeological survey of the site has been in 
progress for several years, initiated by the Royal Ontario Museum, 
and this will add more information to earlier discoveries. 


Legal and Medical Practices, 
Education and Religion intimate may you now feel walking their streets, and 
sitting down in their dwellings, that I shall rather describe 
them as a living community than as historical abstractions. 

Thus Petrie described the inhabitants of Kahun to his readers in 
the 1890s, when he was excavating the town. Subsequent research 
on the artefacts found there, and the translation of the papyri from 
the town, have further enabled a picture to be drawn of 12th 
Dynasty Kahun. 

Kahun's prosperity and importance was not entirely dependent 
upon the pry amid and temple of Sesostris II. The significant 
Middle Kingdom irrigation works in the Fayoum, the subsequent 
construction of the pyramid for Amenemmes III at nearby Hawara, 
and Kahun's position as a centre for business in an area which 
the kings had developed, all ensured that the town continued to 
be of some importance. Indeed, it was far larger than the other 
workmen's towns that have been uncovered, and long after the 
pyramid of Sesostris II had been completed, it continued to house 
religious and civil officials as well as the lower classes. As a town 
which continued to maintain the mortuary cult of the king at his 
pyramid temple, Kahun would have accommodated the priests 
and their families, and all the employees engaged to supply food 
and perform other services for the temple. All the services which 
were needed to support a significant town of this size grew up 
and were to be found at Kahun in the Middle Kingdom; there was 


Legal and medical practices, education and religion 115 

an important legal office there to deal with local problems, and 
there is firm evidence of the provision of community medical care. 

One of the most important sources of our knowledge of certain 
aspects of the town is the collection of papyri (over a thousand 
fragments) which Petrie brought back from Kahun, as well as 
from Gurob. Some were complete enough to be intelligible 
without too much study, but the vast majority were fragments 
no larger than one inch square. They were inscribed in Hieratic 
and the decipherment was laborious. The major work on this 
was carried out by the scholar Francis Llewellyn Griffith, who 
painstakingly pieced the fragments together and translated the 
texts. The results of his labours were published in three volumes 
in the late 1890s. 

Those from Kahun were most ancient and more numerous than 
those found at Gurob; it is doubtful that any of the Kahun papyri 
fragments date to the reign of Sesostris II himself, but they span 
the reigns of several other kings. A hymn and perhaps one of the 
legal documents may be attributed to Sesostris Ill's time, but most 
of the Kahun papyri date to the reign of Amenemmes III and 
indicate that he ruled for some forty-five years. One papyrus dates 
to the time of Amenemmes IV, and others may belong to the later 
reigns of the 13th Dynasty. The papyri which can be attributed to 
the brief occupation of Kahun in the 18th Dynasty under 
Amenophis III are not connected with the organisation of the town. 

The Middle Kingdom papyri can be divided into two main 
classes. There were those which were original compositions put 
together by the scribes, and included letters, accounts, legal 
documents and memoranda, although some of these were copies. 
However, there were also copies of early texts, which included 
literary, scientific and religious works, and school exercises. 
Together, although they lack the breadth of the documentation 
found at Deir el-Medina, a site occupied for considerably longer 
than Kahun, they nevertheless provide invaluable insight into 
major areas of the town's organisation. The medical, veterinary 
and mathematical papyri are particularly important sources of 

Legal administration 

The legal documents were well preserved; some were the first 
known examples of their types. The amt-pr was a deed which 

116 The town of Kahun 

recorded the transfer of property from one individual to another, 
and some types of Will and marriage settlement seemed to have 
been thus classified. One Will, made by a certain Mery, transferred 
to his son his priestly office and the title of his property, house 
and contents. The son was to be taken on as a partner in this office, 
and although the older man would retire from active work, it 
seemed that he also retained some control. It would also appear 
that, although in this case the successor to the post was the old 
man's son, the transaction was purely a business arrangement. 
The son was to be 'as an old man's staff; even as I grow old let him 
be promoted (thereto) at this instant'. 

The other two settlements or Wills refer to members of one 
family. The Will of Sahu, an architect, probably dates to the reign 
of Amenemmes III. He leaves all his property and his Asiatic slaves 
to his brother Uah, who was also an architect and a minor priest 
of Sopdu. In his deed, Uah in his turn transfers this property to 
his wife, Sheftu, giving her the freedom to pass it on to any of 
their children; he also gives her the foreign slaves whom she can 
transfer to any of the couple's children. He grants her the 
undisturbed possession of the house in which she lives, which 
was built for him by his brother, and makes provision for the 
selection of a certain Gebu as their son's tutor. The deed is 
witnessed by a list of named witnesses, and this almost certainly 
constituted a Will or arrangement of affairs before death. 

The next group, known as aput, were official lists of a man's 
household. These gave the names of the family members, and their 
serfs and slaves in the groups in which they were acquired. The 
lists are drawn up in double columns, one written in black and 
the other in red, to accommodate the two personal names which 
Egyptians usually had. They include the names of the father, 
mother, young children and female relatives; in richer households, 
female slaves and their children are included, but not adult male 
slaves. It has been suggested that the total absence of male serfs 
from these lists is because they were listed elsewhere, in 
connection with their employment as labourers, soldiers or clerks, 
or indeed as heads of independent households. One aput list from 
Kahun belonged to a man who had migrated to the town from an 
area of the eastern Delta; the list includes the man, his wife, a 
grandmother, and three of his father's sisters. 

Another list gives the households of a soldier's son, Hera, and 
his relatives, showing how the guardianship and accommodation 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 117 

of unmarried female relatives was undertaken, by combining 
households when the male head of one household died. 

There are various wider social aspects about Kahun which also 
become evident from these lists. The soldiers and the priests, who 
made up the two leading groups at Kahun, could be called upon 
to take part in the actual construction work on the pyramids at 
Lahun and Hawara. The soldiers, with their military engineering 
skills, could be required to direct operations at the pyramid site; 
the priests, with their knowledge of the religious layout of the 
buildings and of the rituals which were necessary to protect them, 
would act as advisers and perform the required rites. The soldiers 
and priests who are known from the Kahun documents were 
therefore probably actively engaged at the pyramid site, as well 
as performing their other traditional duties. 

It seems that the town probably suffered a reduction in 
importance and manpower after the 12th Dynasty, when work on 
the pyramids in the area ceased. Griffith suggested that in the 1st 
Year of the 13th Dynasty, the official recording of the household 
of a priest associated with the Lahun pyramid of Sesostris II may 
have indicated that his property was to be confiscated, or his 
household resettled. 

The third group of legal documents are the am rem.f 'lists. These 
were accounts kept at Kahun which referred to the superintendents 
and workmen. Some were lists which the scribes kept for their 
own reports, whereas others were kept as part of an official journal 
which recorded the rations of the workmen, their attendance at 
the site, and some division of land and property. 

The lists of workmen provide some information about their 
organisation, although they are less detailed than the 
documentation discovered at Deir el-Medina. One list gives the 
muster of men for shifting stones at Kahun from the '4th month of 
Khoiak and 1st month of Tybi'. From the combined information 
of the lists, it seems that these were professional 'stone-shifters' 
who worked for a two-month period. At the head of the list there 
is a man of some importance — a 'director' — and also a scribe; the 
gang follows and is composed often or five men, the first one of 
whom is the foreman. The men's two personal names are often 
given, and in some cases the name of a man's mother. 

In one list, after the gang's details are given, the officials appear 
on a second page; they include soldiers, priests, chief cook, royal 
scribes, 'dwellers in the domain of the lady of the house', and 

118 The town of Kahun 

temple doorkeepers. All were doubtless residents of Kahun. 
According to these papyri, many people at Kahun seem to have 
been given the name of 'Sesostris', after the town's founder. 

The official journal also illuminates several interesting points. 
On one fragment some details are given of figures and dates which 
obviously record the times and quantities of materials which 
were either produced or received by the workmen. It has been 
suggested that these may have been mud-bricks supplied for royal 
buildings. Large bricks (those used for the pyramid of Lahun 
measured 42.24x21.32x13 cm) seem to have been reserved for 
pyramid construction, whereas the bricks used for the houses at 
Kahun were much smaller. The wooden mud-brick mould which 
Petrie discovered in the town was obviously used for making 
domestic bricks. 

The journal also apparently recorded the days of the workmen's 
attendance at the site, although only part of this record is 
preserved. It seems that at Kahun, four months of the year were 
particularly busy; each gang worked continuously for just two 
months, so that in this period, it could have only worked for a 
maximum of sixty days. This list, although it is inadequately 
preserved, mentions twenty-nine gangs which, at maximum 
strength, would have supplied a total workforce of 290 men. 
However, this undoubtedly represented only a fraction of the 
number of men working at the site. The gang probably enjoyed 
four days of holiday in each month, which coincided with the 
lunar quarters. 

The journal is also important for another reason. It contains 
abstracts of a communication and reply, which seem to centre 
around the vexed question of withdrawal of manpower. The 
communication infers that some people were remaining at home 
instead of attending their work, and the writer asks for advice on 
how he should deal with the situation. 

The reply, perhaps written by the vizier's secretary, tells the 
enquirer to ascertain what orders have been given and to stop the 
people coming to the palace to state their grievance. If the situation 
is resolved, the vizier will send at once to fetch these people. 

It would therefore appear that some grievance had upset the 
men, and that they had taken a collective action to show their 
annoyance, by staying away from their workplace. The officials 
wished to keep them away from the palace but decided that the 
situation was sufficiently severe to warrant the vizier's personal 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 119 

intervention. Although the details are unclear, it seems that 
perhaps this disturbance at Kahun foreshadowed the much more 
clearly stated conflict in the 'strike papyri' discovered at Deir el- 
Medina. It is quite possible that royal workmen engaged on the 
king's tomb had recognised their potential power in much earlier 
times, and that their strikes had always been part of the labour 
relations in ancient Egypt. Where a situation existed involving 
royal tombs, a workforce and food rations, there would almost 
inevitably have been conflict. 

Another type of legal papyrus, the sunu, was an official 
document either appointing a government officer or engaging a 
servant. Finally, there were memoranda, written on small squares 
of papyrus and usually bearing the name of the writer and the 
recipient on one side and the message on the other. One 
memorandum gives the price of services and was made by Ameny, 
'Seal-keeper of the office of providing labourers'. The payment 
seems to have been made, probably as an honorarium by the 
government, to two brothers on their appointment to particular 
offices. However, the point of interest is that the payment consisted 
of four Asiatics, two women and two children. 

The Egyptian legal system is known to us only through the kind 
of documents that have come down to us from settlement and 
temple sites. At Kahun, accounts and correspondence were found 
at the temple, whereas papyri dealing with various other matters 
were discovered in the houses. Nowhere, however, has a law code, 
similar to those possessed by some other early civilisations, come 
to light. 

The Kahun documents show that the town was both busy and 
important. It also was governed by strict administrative measures. 
Individual documents reflect the same legal practices which are 
evident in material from other sites. They are dated, the parties 
concerned in the transactions make statements, and the 
documents are witnessed by named individuals. The papyri 
which refer to the family of the priests of Sopdu provide evidence 
of family law, and the existing group was apparently only part 
of a much larger collection of documents which probably dealt 
with the family's whole legal history. It is clear that the 
inhabitants of Kahun entered into legal transactions over a period 
of many years. 

However, there are perhaps two most important contributions 
which these documents make to our overall understanding of the 

120 The town of Kahun 

society. Firstly, they show that a significant number of 'Asiatics' 
were present in the town, engaged in a variety of occupations. 
Secondly, they illuminate some aspects of the employment and 
working conditions of the royal workmen, although there are few 
details of the type of work and techniques involved. They also 
indicate that the vizier's authority here, as elsewhere, was only 
required for more important cases. This underlines the severity 
of the problem which lay behind the apparent refusal to return to 
work, when it became necessary for the vizier to be involved. 

Education and literature 

The second major group of papyri from Kahun are those which, at 
different levels, attempt to deal with literary skills. It was the custom 
in Egypt for children to be educated in groups. There were different 
kinds of schools for different classes of people, but essentially, the 
children were taught a range of subjects. Their most essential skill, 
however, was the ability to read and write. They were frequently 
trained by means of sets of model letters which they would copy 
on to sherds, limestone flakes, or, less frequently, papyrus. These 
were intended to be formal exercises which would not only improve 
the children's writing and spelling ability and accuracy, but in some 
cases, by their very content, instruct and inspire the youngsters 
with wisdom and desired attitudes. At Kahun, a book of these model 
letters was found. Unfortunately, although its existence indicates 
that formal education existed at Kahun, and that this took the same 
form as in other towns and at different periods, the book adds very 
little to existing knowledge of the Egyptian educational system. 
Here at Kahun, as elsewhere in Egypt, the sons of the priests and 
officials would have received quite a lengthy education, designed 
to create a socially acceptable as well as an intellectually competent 
young person. It is not known whether more than a rudimentary 
education was extended to the workmen's sons at Kahun. 

Amongst the objects excavated in the town, a few other items 
of educational interest were discovered. A wooden counting stick, 
made from an old piece of furniture, was used for teaching 
children. It was designed to enable them to count many of the 
numbers up to 100. Some fragments of writing tablets were also 
uncovered. These were made of wood and the surface was faced 
with a polished layer of stucco. This was so fine that the ink would 
not soak into it, but could be washed off. 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 121 

One model letter thus used to instruct the children will suffice 
to show their general level — 

The servant of the wakf, Ser, saith to... life, prosperity, 
health! By the favour of Sobek, Lord of Kheny, as the 
servant there desireth. It is a communication to the Master, 
life, prosperity, health! about causing to be brought to me a 
little peppermint (?) for the servant there. It is good that 
thou hearken. 

(F.LL. Griffith, Hieratic Papyri from Kahun & Gurob, [1898] 
p. 69 (letter 7).) 

Numbers of original letters were also discovered. Letters were sent 
to Kahun from other cities — Thebes, Heliopolis, Heracleopolis, 
Crocodilopolis, and other places associated with the cult of 
Sesostris II — as well as being written by the town's residents. Many 
letters were folded up in vertical folds; they were folded two or 
three times from the sides, and then the folded roll was bent double 
or treble. The two ends were tied up with a strip of papyrus or 
string. This was sealed with a clay seal, and the impression, 
produced by a scarab, often gave the name of the town so that, 
from this evidence, it was possible to determine that Kahun's 
original and ancient name was 'Hetep-Sesostris'. In all but one 
example, the letters were begun on the recto and addressed on 
the verso, usually in the form 'The Master X, from Y'. 

One letter and its reply are especially interesting. They follow 
the usual pattern, but the contents give the impression of an angry 
exchange between the writers. The reply implies that the writer 
wishes numerous evils on his correspondent, ending with the 
words — 

'111 may be thine hearing, and a plague! (or, 'May you be 
p lague-stricken ! ' ) ' 

However, he follows with a postscript — 

'Come that I may see thee. Behold, we are passing an evil 

Although the Middle Kingdom was the great period of literature 
in Egypt, there is little evidence of such a golden age in the papyri 

122 The town of Kahun 

found at Kahun. Part of a hymn addressed to King Sesostris III 
was discovered, which will be considered later as an aspect of 
religion at Kahun. The only other literary piece is a portion of an 
episode from the myth of the conflict between the gods Horus 
and Seth, which was written in a popular form. 

However, the Kahun mathematical and scientific fragments are 
of more interest. It would appear that the Middle Kingdom was 
the time when scientific literature flourished; all known 
mathematical documents are either believed to have originated 
then or to be copies of documents of the 12th Dynasty. At Kahun, 
various mathematical works were discovered; two small papyri 
were found together, one giving an arithmetical table and the other 
a calculation regarding the contents of a circular granary. Another 
was an account of fowl. This was a 'balance sheet' of an account, 
which lists the values of the birds named in relation to a common 
factor — the Sei-duck. Those people who were in charge of animals 
and birds were apparently required to provide a tax return which 
was either a fixed annual amount or fixed proportion of their 
produce. If the produce fell in one year, it could be made up in 
another, and paid at intervals throughout the year. Such lists were 
drawn up by scribes to provide updated accounts of the tax 

Veterinary and medical practice 

Animals were an important concern to the inhabitants of Kahun. 
One of the papyri — a narrow strip inscribed with veterinary 
prescriptions — is unique. It relates to the treatment of diseases in 
animals and probably details eye complaints suffered by a bull 
and perhaps by a fish, a bird and a dog. The symptoms suffered 
by each animal are listed. This is the treatment for a bull suffering 
from wind (a cold?): 

Let him be laid on his side, let him be sprinkled with cold 
water, let his eyes and his hoofs and all his body be rubbed 
with gourds or melons, let him be fumigated with gourds. . .. 

However, one of the most important discoveries at Kahun was 
part of a medical papyrus which contained instructions and 
prescriptions for physicians or midwives. It consisted of three 
pages, closely written in Hieratic, in a distinctive hand which 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 123 

enabled the fragments to be picked out from the heap and 
reassembled: the third page was pieced together by Griffith from 
46 separate fragments. The papyrus was apparently found 
damaged in ancient times, and had been repaired with new 
papyrus pasted along the back. 

A major source for our knowledge of the concepts and practice 
of medicine in ancient Egypt is the group of nine principal medical 
papyri; these are either named after their original owners — Edwin 
Smith, Chester Beatty, Carlsberg — or after the site where they were 
found — Kahun, the Ramesseum — or after the city where the 
papyrus is now kept — London, Leyden, and Berlin. One is named 
after its modern editor — Ebers. Others of less importance also exist, 
but the Kahun papyrus is the oldest of the medical papyri. It was 
also obviously a copy of a yet older text, as were most of these 
papyri. All these medical papyri can be regarded almost as 'recipe 
books', with details of individual 'cases', and their treatment. 
Papyrus Kahun is not only the most ancient document on 
gynaecology known from anywhere in the world, but it also 
illustrates the relative sophistication of medical practices at Kahun 
inc. 1880 BC. 

The first two pages contain seventeen gynaecological 
prescriptions without titles or introduction. These all take one form: 

Treatment of a woman (suffering and symptoms are 
described); say thou with regard to it ('it is,' etc. and the 
diagnosis); make thou for it (prescription). 

No surgical treatments are indicated, but various drugs, 
fumigations and vaginal applications are given; the substances 
recommended include beer, cow's milk, oil, dates, and other fruits, 
herbs, incense and various offensive substances. The quantities 
of the substances are not usually specified, but would be decided 
by the physician. However, where the quantity is stated, it is given 
in terms of measure and not of weight; 4V2 cubic inches or 6 / 7 pint 
for liquid are favourite amounts. 

The third page contains a further seventeen prescriptions, which 
are concerned with various tests designed to ascertain sterility, 
pregnancy and the sex of unborn children. 

All Egyptian medicine was imbued with a combination of 
rational medical practice and magic; disease was classified in 
two categories — where the cause of the illness was evident, 

124 The town of Kahun 

rational methods could be used to alleviate it, whereas if the 
cause were not apparent, magic was brought in to attempt a cure. 
Papyrus Kahun has much in common with certain other medical 
papyri. Many of the same formulae are found in the Ebers 
Papyrus, which is the largest and most important of the known 
papyri and dates to the reign of Amenophis I (c. 1550 BC). It is 
particularly significant because, whereas the others simply list 
prescriptions and include magic along with rational methods, 
the Ebers Papyrus attempts for the first time to consider 
objectively the problems of disease, without recourse to magic. 
It was discovered with another papyrus in 1862, and in 108 pages, 
it deals with many gynaecological diseases which are frequently 
mentioned in the earlier Papyrus Kahun. Some of the subjects 
covered include the disease known as 'eating in the womb' which 
may refer to cancer, as well as eroding ulcers, contraceptive 
measures, methods to assist with childbirth and treatments for 

The Berlin Papyrus and the Ramesseum Papyri IV and V also 
contain much that is similar to Papyrus Kahun. The Berlin 
Papyrus, which dates to the 19th Dynasty (c. 1300 BC), contains a 
series of fertility tests, whereas Ramesseum Papyrus IV in 
particular has many prescriptions which are identical to those in 
Papyrus Kahun, so that sometimes it is possible to complete a 
missing text in Papyrus Kahun by reference to the Berlin Papyrus. 
The main subjects of the Berlin Papyrus are childbirth, protection 
of the newborn, and contraceptive formulae. 

Other papyri also deal with women's ailments and childbirth. 
There are sections such as that in the Hearst Papyrus (c. 1550 BC) 
which are concerned with gynaecological diagnosis. The Brooklyn 
Museum Papyrus contains a magical protection for the pregnant 
woman against evil spirits and all dangers. However, most 
examples in other papyri merely duplicate the Ebers Papyrus. 

Gynaecology therefore occupies a major section in a number of 
papyri, and the various versions are so similar that it suggests 
that they were probably derived from the same original source. 
The papyri indicate that the Egyptians' gynaecological knowledge, 
based on detailed examination of the patient, was considerable. 
Other physical and psychological symptoms which patients 
evidenced were also frequently attributed to gynaecological 

The Egyptians developed the earliest medical profession in 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 125 

the world. From the Old Kingdom onwards, they were aware 
of the internal arrangement of the organs in the human body, 
largely because of the postmortem knowledge which they 
gained through the incision and opening of the abdomen and 
the removal of the viscera, as one of the preliminary stages in 
the process of mummification. Their range of medical diagnoses 
and surgical and pharmaceutical treatments was considerable, 
and it is not surprising that the diseases associated with 
pregnancy and childbirth, as well as methods to ascertain 
sterility and fertility and to prevent conception, were regarded 
as important concerns. 

The Egyptians married early in life and therefore could be 
expected to produce many children. On the one hand, barrenness 
was considered a great personal tragedy for the couple concerned, 
and every attempt was made to determine if a woman would be 
fertile. On the other hand, however, pregnancy and childbirth were 
surrounded by considerable physical dangers. Many infants died 
in the first few months of life, and the level of antenatal care and 
the conditions surrounding birth must have meant that many 
women died or sustained injuries associated with childbirth which 
continued to trouble them. It was therefore not surprising that 
contraceptive methods were devised which limited their families 
and lessened the dangers presented by continuous pregnancies. 

The papyri provide a fascinating insight into the gynaecology 
practised in ancient Egypt as well as the extent and level of medical 
knowledge. From the Ebers Papyrus, we learn that there was a 
school of midwifery in the Temple of Neith at Sais in the Delta, 
where midwives learnt their skills from the goddess's attendants. 
Probably a number of Egyptian temples taught these skills as part 
of the wider medical training of students. It is also evident from 
Papyrus Kahun that through the physicians or midwives, the 
people of the town had access not only to pregnancy and fertility 
tests, and the diagnosis and treatment of their diseases, but were 
also provided with knowledge of contraceptive methods. 

In Papyrus Kahun, on the first and second pages of the original 
manuscript, occupying 59 lines, there are seventeen prescriptions 
which list the patient's signs and symptoms and then indicate a 
treatment. In every instance, some symptoms or disturbances are 
noted which on first sight seem to bear little relation to 
gynaecology. They include pains in the limbs, the eyes and the 
abdomen, deafness, shaking attacks of terror, and apathy. However, 

126 The town of Kahun 

these are accredited to causes which the Egyptian physicians 
sought in a few primary disorders of the womb. Thus, in 
Prescription No. 8, there are: 

Instructions for a woman suffering in her neck, pubic area 
and ears that she hears not what is said to her. You should 
declare about her: 'This is disquietings of the womb'. You 
should prescribe for it: the likes of that prescription for 
driving out 'morbid discharges' of the womb. 

Prescription No. 11 deals with a case of apathy, believed to be the 
result of hysteria: 

Instructions for a woman who wishes to lie down, she 
makes no effort to rise, and will not shake it off. You 
should declare about her: 'This is spasms of the womb'. 
You should act towards her thus: making her drink 970 ml. 
of h c wy-Huid and having her vomit it forthwith. 

One case is particularly interesting. In Prescription 9, the 
woman's symptoms are described as 'pains in her vagina and 
also in every limb — like one beaten', which Griffith tentatively 
identified as rheumatism. However, a more recent translation 
has been provided by Stevens — 'pains in her vagina and likewise 
in every limb; one who has been maltreated'. He offers a different 
explanation of this passage and suggests that the treatment 
indicated in this prescription — that the woman should eat oil 
until she is well — recalls the story of a woman in the D'Orbiney 
Papyrus. Wishing to make her husband believe that his brother 
had indecently assaulted her, she took oil and grease to make 
herself resemble one who 'had been maltreated'. This remedy 
seems therefore to have been the classic prescription for such 
cases, and Stevens suggests that the example in Papyrus Kahun 
may refer to a victim who had suffered this type of assault. Other 
'social evils' at Kahun may also be reflected in this papyrus. In 
Prescriptions 1, 6 and 16, descriptions are given of a woman 
'whose eyes are diseased that she cannot see, and suffering is in 
her neck', and another who is 'diseased in every limb, and 
suffering in the sockets of her eyes', while a third also suffers 'in 
every limb and in the sockets of her eyes'. It has been suggested 
that the combination of symptoms — generalised aches, pains in 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 127 

the eyes and a uterine disease — may suggest evidence of venereal 
disease. However, the existence of gonorrhoea in ancient Egypt 
cannot be confirmed, and if it did occur, it is impossible to 
determine how widespread it was. 

Prescription No. 2 illustrates a number of points. The patient 
has become ill because her womb is 'diseased through journeying' . 
The physician, required to ask her 'What do you smell?' is 
instructed that, if the woman answers 'I smell fries', he should 
declare 'This is a disorder of the womb', and prescribe for her 
'fumigation over everything she smells as fries'. The smell of 'fries' 
or burning flesh may indicate a case of cancer of the genitalia 
here; if so, the method of treatment was to combat it with another 
'burnt odour' — the fumigation. It is difficult to determine how 
common this type of cancer was in Egypt, although other sources 
indicate that their physicians could identify those tumours for 
which no medical or surgical treatment would be effective, but 
which had to be left to the god's intervention. This passage shows 
that the physician considered his patient's history and her 
perception of her own symptoms as very important indications, 
which helped him to reach a diagnosis. It also makes it evident, 
as do other examples, that the Egyptians believed that the pelvic 
organs, including the womb, were freely mobile within the 
abdomen. If they wandered, they could cause disease, and it was 
necessary to 'put them again in their place' by attracting them 
into position with fumigations placed under the standing woman. 
These fumigations were often made of frankincense and oil; 
pessaries made of vegetable extracts and wine or beer, on which 
the woman sat, were also used to correct prolapse and other 
disorders of the womb. 

Various bodily symptoms were said to be caused by 'defluxions 
of the womb'; these included pains in the 'hindquarters, pubic 
region and the bases of her thighs', and also urinary problems. In 
another case (No. 4) the woman's symptoms were deemed to be 
due to giving birth, while in No. 6 the symptoms were said to 
result from 'want in her womb'; it has been suggested that this 
may have meant that the woman strongly desired to bear a child. 
Prescription 5, for a woman 'suffering in her teeth and her gums 
that she cannot open her mouth', recommends fumigation but also 
warns that further painful symptoms in this case indicate 'an 
incurable disease'. 

Apart from the fumigations, various dietary prescriptions were 

128 The town of Kahun 

given: a woman should eat the raw liver of an ass; or prepared 
concoctions of nuts, grain and milk; or cereal blended with water 
or mixtures of grass, beans, seeds and beer. In most cases, a specific 
number of days were stated during which the patient was required 
to take the medicine. One patient, suffering from pains in her feet 
and legs, was to be instructed to smear her feet and legs with mud 
until she was well, and another, for similar symptoms, was to be 
given 'strips of fine linen soaked in myrrh'. 

Various cases dealt with problems associated with menstruation. 
In Prescription No. 12, a remedy is given which may have been 
intended to promote menstruation; aromatic concoctions to be 
employed as vaginal douches so that 'the blood may be made to 
come away' are found in the Ebers and Edwin Smith Papyri as 
well as Papyrus Kahun. The Egyptians also considered some other 
conditions to be associated with menstruation. In Prescription 
No. 1, inflammation of the eyes was regarded as a symptom of 
uterine disease, and indeed it is accepted today that some cases 
of iritis are manifested during menstruation. 

Case 17, Instructions for a woman bleeding...', may be a 
prescription to deal with a threatened miscarriage; once again, 
the woman was required to sit over a prepared concoction, and as 
a further measure, to drink a mixture which had been boiled and 

From this first section of Papyrus Kahun, it is clear that the 
physicians adopted a systematic approach. They questioned their 
patients, assessed their symptoms, and then prescribed the 
treatments. The observations were noted and documented with 
care and it is obvious that local examinations and the consideration 
of patients' own histories played an important part in the final 

A second section begins on page 3 of the Kahun Papyrus and 
includes Prescriptions 18 to 25. These passages deal with 
conception and contraception and indicate that many aspects of 
the procreative process were already recognised and understood 
by the Egyptians. 

Prescriptions 18 and 20 are both concerned with fertility; it has 
been suggested that No. 18 was a recommended aphrodisiac (half 
a dipper of milk poured into the woman's vagina), while in No. 
20, a recipe is given for a fumigation, which should be used 'by 
suppertime', to cause conception. A number of contraceptive 
preparations are then given, which were designed to act as either 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 129 

barrier or spermicial methods. These include 'excrement of 
crocodile dispersed finely in sour milk', which is similar to a 
prescription given in the Ramesseum Papyrus IV; a concoction of 
honey and natron which is to be injected into the woman's vagina; 
and an insertion of sour milk. 

The third and final section of the papyrus (page 3, lines 12 to 
24) describes a number of tests which were used to prognosticate 
a woman's fertility and ability to conceive, to diagnose pregnancy, 
and to determine a child's sex. Many similar tests are included in 
other medical papyri, and show the importance which the 
Egyptians attached to such predictions. 

Some of the tests were designed to distinguish between fertile 
and infertile women. These were based on the erroneous idea that, 
in fertile women, there existed a free passage for certain substances 
to pass from the vagina to the rest of the body. Thus, in Prescription 
No. 27, the physician is instructed to ask a woman to sit over a 
mess of dates mixed with beer. If she vomits, she will conceive, 
and the number of vomits indicate the number of children she 
will bear. If she does not vomit, she will remain barren. A 
prescription in the Berlin Papyrus has similar implications. 
Papyrus Kahun has another prescription (No. 28) in which an 
onion is inserted in the woman's vagina; if the odour of the onion 
appears on her breath the next day, she will conceive, but if not, 
then 'She will not give birth ever'. A parallel to this is to be found 
elsewhere in the Egyptian texts (Papyrus Carlsberg IV) and also, 
some 1500 years later, in the writings of the Greek physician 
Hippocrates (Aphorism, V, 59). 

Papyrus Kahun also indicates (No. 26) that the physician should 
examine the woman's breasts to distinguish 'who will conceive 
from who will not conceive'. If the vessels of the breast are 
distended, she will conceive. This again finds a parallel in the 
Berlin Papyrus. Other methods to assess fertility included the 
examination of the woman's abdomen (No. 29) and her 
countenance (No. 31), by which it could be decided if the woman 
would bear a son, although, if 'you have noticed something upon 
her eyes, she will not give birth ever'. Various parallels exist in 
the Berlin and Carlsberg Papyri, as well as in a text from 
Hippocrates, in which the sex of the unborn child is prognosticated 
by observing the mother's facial features, and the consistency of 
the breasts. This idea was based on the theory that the fluids in 
the body of a woman who was carrying a boy must be different 

130 The town of Kahun 

from those of a woman who would give birth to a girl. Although 
no reference is made to it in Papyrus Kahun, another most 
significant test is mentioned in the papyri, which sought to 
determine the unborn child's sex through examination of the 
mother's urine. The properties of the urine would vary according 
to the child's sex, and the woman was asked to urinate daily on 
two cloth bags, one containing wheat and the other barley. If both 
germinated, it was claimed that the woman would give birth — if 
the barley grew first, it would be a boy, but if the wheat germinated 
first, she would bear a girl. If neither cereal grew, then she would 
not give birth. 

Modern pregnancy tests are based on the principle that, in 
pregnant women, a particular hormone is present; this was only 
demonstrated in 1927. However, the ancient Egyptians probably 
held the belief that, as the pregnant woman's body carries life, 
her urine would also contain a life-force and would thus cause 
growth in cereals. Indeed, tests by Professor Ghalioungui and 
others have shown that these ancient pregnancy tests, if not the 
reasoning behind them, have some scientific foundation, for in a 
series of modern tests, in about 40 per cent of the cases, the urine 
of pregnant women caused barley and wheat to germinate, whereas 
that of men and women who were not pregnant prevented growth 
in the cereals. 

In Papyrus Kahun, there was one final method by which fertility 
could be determined (No. 30). This is the only example in the 
papyrus of a magical incantation, as opposed to a rational diagnosis 
and suggested treatment. The incomplete text seems to provide a 
spell to induce a nosebleed — '...if there is a coming away from her 
nostril, she will give birth. If however, there is no coming away, 
then she will not give birth ever'. Perhaps, by contrast, this last 
magical prescription illustrates how the rest of Papyrus Kahun 
reveals a sophisticated attitude both to the diagnosis and treatment 
of gynaecological problems, and to methods of community 
medicine. The papyrus remains one of the most important sources 
for the study of the history of world medicine and the development 
of medical practice in Egypt. It also provides a major contribution 
to our understanding of medical care and social organisation at 
Kahun itself. However, the existence of such a document should 
not obscure the significance of other physical facts from the site. 
Petrie discovered that almost every house at Kahun had been 
invaded by rats; nearly every room was tunnelled through in the 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 131 

corners, and the holes had been stuffed with stones and rubbish to 
hold the animals back. Despite some advanced socio-medical ideas 
and practices, the standards of hygiene and probably the general 
incidence of disease at Kahun would have endangered lives. 

Religion at Kahun 

At Kahun, as elsewhere throughout Egypt, there were different 
levels of religious practice. The official cults, performed on behalf 
of the king and the gods in the elaborate setting of temples, 
certainly existed there. So, also, did the worship of humble deities 
in the inhabitant's own dwellings. The official religion at Kahun 
shows no specific evidence of non-Egyptian beliefs or practices, 
but some aspects of the popular religion at Kahun are perhaps 
unusual. It will be necessary to consider later whether these 
peculiarities can be accounted for by the fact that our knowledge 
of domestic religion at settlement sites is limited, or whether the 
Kahun situation reflects 'foreign' practices, brought in by those 
residents whom Petrie claimed had migrated to Egypt. 

The official religion at Kahun was centred on the pyramid 
temple of Sesostris II. This, we have seen, was one of the main 
reasons for the town's continuing existence and prosperity once 
the king's pyramid was completed. The pyramid temple played 
an important part in the king's burial service, and thereafter, it 
became the place where the priesthood performed daily rituals, 
offering food and drink to the dead king's spirit so that he might 
enjoy an eternal food supply. In this, the funerary temple had the 
same purpose as the offering chapels attached to humble tombs 
of the non-royal deceased, where their families and special 
funerary priests presented food offerings. In the funerary temple 
rituals, it was also the intention to ensure the dead king's 
acceptance by the gods and to constantly reaffirm his role as a 
god and king in the next world. 

The two temples attached to the Lahun pyramid — one 
immediately joining it, and the other, where the rituals continued 
to be performed after the king's death, about 805 m away at 
Kahun — were both excavated by Petrie. Originally they would 
have been linked by some kind of causeway although at this site, 
this link was more 'spiritual' than actual. In both, he discovered 
foundation deposits placed there when the construction was 
started, and in the Kahun temple, a mass of papyri were discovered 

132 The town of Kahun 

which provided information about the personnel and 
administration of the temple. 

Amongst the papyri there was a list of royal statues which were 
kept in the temple at Kahun. The four members of the royal family 
who were represented in this group were Sesostris II as a deceased 
king, Sesostris III (still alive), the 'King's Wife and Mother', who 
was already dead, and the 'King's Wife' who was still alive. It was 
doubtless these royal persons who received worship and divine 
honours at the temple during the reign of Sesostris III. Another 
papyrus recorded the attendance of dancers and singers at festivals 
in the same temple. It makes reference to the 35th Year of the 
reign of a king, whose name is lost. It also contains a number of 
tables; the most complete preserves the names of sixteen persons, 
grouped together under various mutilated headings, but it is clear 
that they were all dancers or acrobats and singers. In the remainder 
of the table, the festivals are grouped according to the months in 
which they occurred. 

Generally, the papyrus makes it clear that each epagomenal day 
was a festival. Also, each group of individuals had their own set 
of festivals which they were required to attend; this seems to be 
an account of the number of individual attendances and it may 
also be a record of the absences or days on which sickness 
prevented the performer being present. The total individual 
attendance for a year seems to have been thirty-two days, an 
average of three days in every month. 

In one list, a number of festivals are mentioned and include 
those of Sokar, of Khoiak, and of the reigning king. There is also a 
festival of 'Receiving the Nile' which was probably connected with 
the cutting of the dam at the inundation. Table 3 is concerned 
with the 'Festival of Rowing Hathor, Lady of Heracleopolis', which 
may have celebrated the visit by the goddess to the Kahun temple. 

Further interest is provided by the names of the performers; 
their two personal names are given, in addition to that of the 
person's father or mother. Many of them are named after Sesostris, 
the town's founder and patron. As well as in other Kahun lists, 
this custom can also be noted on a large stela which records the 
offerings for a high-priest at Kahun, named Sesostris-ankh-tef-pen. 
In Table 2 of the papyrus, four groups are recorded; the first three 
are headed either 'acrobats' or 'dancers' and then divided into '?' 
and 'singers'. There appear to be two singers in each group and 
these are all Egyptians. However, in the subdivision where the 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 133 

title is lost — '?' — the individuals are nearly all distinguished by 
the term which implies that they are foreigners. 

Other documents referring to temple administration include a 
table giving thirty days of a month (which is not identified), 
divided into lucky and unlucky days; these are classified as 'good', 
'bad', or as 'good/bad' meaning 'mixed'. Such lists are known from 
other Egyptian sources and were doubtless derived from 
observations of certain magical signs which indicated the 
advisability of carrying out particular functions on various days. 
Another papyrus lists a number of jars, probably including a 
honey-measure, which were perhaps used in the offering rites. 
There is also a record of the daily payments to various temple 
staff who are specified as being 'upon the free list (?), eating bread 
of this day'. These include the superintendent, who received eight 
jugs of beer and sixteen loaves of bread of different sizes, the chief 
cook, porters and others. It appears that about a sixth of the daily 
revenue of the temple was paid out in this way; a much larger 
amount would have been paid to the priests who offered food to 
the deceased king and to his favoured deceased relatives and 

The temple records tell us little about the major cults at Kahun. 
Undoubtedly, Hathor was favoured here, as at Deir el-Medina. 
Sobek, the crocodile god who was held in special esteem in the 
Fayoum, would have received official worship here also, although 
it is surprising that no mention is made of his festivals in the 
Kahun temple documents. However, a beautiful inscribed black 
basalt statue, found standing in the corner of a room in one of the 
large northern mansions, belonged to a royal relative whose name, 
Se-Sobek, underlines the importance of the god's cult at Kahun. 

The family of Uah mentioned in the Kahun legal papyri held 
priesthoods of the god Sopdu or Soped. He was a falcon deity, 
'Lord of the Eastern Desert', who, together with Hathor, the 'Lady 
of Turquoise', protected the crossing to Sinai. It is perhaps 
surprising to find such a god worshipped at Kahun, and Petrie 
suggested that some of the Kahun settlers may have come originally 
from east of the Delta, and introduced his cult at Kahun. 

The only other major religious document which was discovered 
at Kahun in 1889 is a hymn addressed to King Sesostris III during 
his lifetime. It was composed as a form of greeting by the 
inhabitants of a city, to celebrate the king's entry into 'his city'. 
Whether reference to Kahun or another city is intended is unclear. 

134 The town of Kahun 

The king's virtues and attributes and prowess against his enemies 
are extolled, and the hymn commences with the words: 

Praise to thee, Khakaure! Our Horus, divine of forms! That 
protects the land and widens its boundaries, restraining 
the foreign lands with his crown. . . 

Turning to evidence of popular religion at Kahun, we find that 
offerings of food were made in the houses, as at Deir el-Medina. A 
number of roughly carved stone dish-stands were discovered in the 
houses. Each of these generally consisted of a simple column, which 
supported a dish, into which the dough or bread would have been 
placed. However, some took forms which are not known elsewhere 
in Egypt. Curious primitive stone figures act as supports for the 
offering dish, and in some examples two men stand back to back and 
support a cup with raised arms. In another instance, an arm supports 
a cup and this was obviously intended to project from a wall into 
which it would have been built. Most columns had a plain capital, 
but Petrie also discovered 'a small stone stand in the form of a lotus 
column, which supported a saucer which had obviously been used 
for burning incense'. It was cut from one block of limestone, and 
again, although its form was traditionally Egyptian, this use of the 
lotus column for such a purpose has not been seen elsewhere. The 
evidence seems to indicate that these stands formed part of some 
daily ritual which occurred in the houses, when bread and perhaps 
other offerings were made to deities. It is impossible to determine if 
these household gods and rituals at Kahun differed to any 
considerable degree from those which existed in towns and villages 
elsewhere in Egypt. The strange design of the stands suggests a purely 
local artistic development; this may indeed indicate that the 
worshippers were foreign and had different religious customs but it 
could simply represent a variation on the design of the stands 
introduced here by native Egyptian householders. 

Other physical evidence for the popular deities at Kahun is 
unremarkable. Two figures were discovered which represented 
the goddess of childbirth, Tauert; one large rough figure shows 
that all the characteristics of the goddess which are seen in later 
representations are already present in the Kahun forms. 

Perhaps one of the most interesting groups of objects was found 
in a house on the south side of the second street from the top, in 
the western sector of the town. Petrie discovered this between 6 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 135 

and 13 November 1889. He described it as his 'most complete 
find of the week', and referred to it in his publications as 'Group 
9'. The whole group is now in the Manchester Museum, and, 
according to Petrie, could be dated by the flint and copper 
implements and the forms of the alabaster vases to the Middle 
Kingdom. The group consisted of a wooden spoon with the 
remains of a little figurine at one end; three fine alabaster vases 
all of one type and a green paste vase of the same shape; a 
selection of flint knives, one with binding on the handle; seven 
flint flakes in a leather bag, with some nuts and roots, metal 
items, and a whetstone; a selection of copper tools including a 
large knife, two small chisels set in wooden handles, a piercer 
set in a nut handle, and some other pieces without handles. There 
was also a wooden box, and most importantly, a fine metal mirror, 
with a wooden handle carved on either side with the cow-eared, 
human face of the goddess Hathor, together with a torque. With 
the exception of the metal part of the mirror and the large knife, 
all the items were discovered in one room of the house. They 
have been mentioned in some detail because the overall 
impression they give is of a group of ordinary possessions 
belonging to a workman and his wife — his tools, some woody 
rhizomes, perhaps for chewing, and her cosmetic jars, mirror 
and precious necklace. 

However, the mirror and the torque are of special interest. Petrie 
could not recall another instance of a torque found in Egypt. 
However, a few other examples have been discovered there: a silver 
torque was found in a woman's grave at Abydos; another belonging 
to a group was discovered at Ballas; two more were excavated in 
a Pan-grave, Tomb 1008, at Mostagedda; and a grave in the Fayoum 
was found to contain part of a torque. However, although this 
type of jewellery is apparently so rare in Egypt, the torque is a 
distinctive ornament which was worn for over five centuries in 
western Asiatic areas. The earliest well-dated example comes from 
a pre-Sargonid grave at Ur in Mesopotamia, and it has been 
suggested that the 'torque- wearers' may have been an ethnic group 
who came from elsewhere and settled in Byblos and Ras Shamra, 
on the coast of Palestine, at the beginning of the Middle Bronze 
Age. It seems that torques were thereafter produced locally at 
Byblos. The few analyses of specimens which have been carried 
out have shown that they were made of almost pure copper, or of 
bronze, containing a high proportion of tin. 

136 The town of Kahun 

The Kahun example is therefore of unique importance; it is the 
only torque found in Egypt which was obviously a piece of 
jewellery worn in the owner's lifetime. A likely explanation is 
that she or perhaps her husband were foreigners residing at Kahun, 
and that she had brought the treasured torque from her original 

However, even in this house, the representation of Hathor, an 
Egyptian goddess, is found on the mirror handle. Does it imply 
that the residents, even if they were foreign, had adopted the 
worship of an Egyptian goddess who was particularly favoured at 
Kahun? Or did they already worship her in their original 
homeland? Hathor, as one aspect of Egypt's mother-goddess, had 
a wide appeal. Her popularity in cosmopolitan communities is 
evidenced elsewhere, in the copper-mining community in Sinai 
and in the workmen's village at Deir el-Medina. She was also 
worshipped in Palestine in the 12th Dynasty, which, as we shall 
see, is a possible place of origin for Kahun's 'foreign residents'. It 
is interesting to note also that the Hathor mirror handle resembles, 
in a much poorer version, the splendid example which Petrie 
discovered in the royal princesses' treasure at Lahun. Perhaps the 
royal fashions established a style that was followed by the humbler 
inhabitants of the pyramid workmen's town, but this is the only 
example which Petrie discovered at Kahun. It is not inconceivable 
that a relative of this woman had been involved in the design or 
production of the royal mirror, and had copied its shape and 
decoration, in a simpler form and with cheaper materials. 

Another group with magical and perhaps religious significance 
was found in a hole in the floor of a room in one of the houses. 
This group included a wooden figurine, representing a dancer 
wearing a mask and a costume with a tail, as well as a pair of 
ivory wands or clappers. In the next room in the same house, a 
full-sized cartonnage mask was found. This was made of three 
layers of canvas covered with stucco and painted black with arches 
above and below the eyes, spots on the cheeks, a band across the 
head, and red lips. The nostrils and the eyes were pierced, to enable 
the wearer to breathe and to see. It had obviously been worn quite 
frequently, since some of the stucco had fallen off; to repair it, 
black paint had been applied directly to the canvas base. 

The features of the mask resemble the face of the god Bes, who 
was the popular household deity of jollification, music and 
dancing. A mask of Bes in moulded clay was also discovered at 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 137 

Deir el-Medina, and a comparison has been drawn between these 
masks and a figure shown in a wall-painting in Tomb 99 at Thebes, 
which dates to the 18th Dynasty. 

The Kahun wooden figurine was stolen in 1892. However, 
although it was a unique piece, a similar statuette was discovered 
at the Ramesseum at Thebes, where a wooden figurine of a masked 
woman, holding a bronze snake in either hand, was uncovered. 

The Kahun group probably belonged to a dancer who often wore 
the mask and used the ivory clappers, perhaps in some kind of 
magico-religious ceremony. It would appear that such activities, 
perhaps intended to imitate the god Bes and to utilise his magic 
powers, were part of popular religious custom in these 
communities. Further discoveries of figures of Bes and of pottery 
moulds to produce amulets suggest that the popular beliefs 
regarding religion and magical protection were much the same at 
Kahun as elsewhere. 

One feature of funerary customs at Kahun, however, is unusual. 
It has already been stated that numbers of baby burials were 
discovered here by Petrie, underneath the floors of many of the 
houses. Many of the babies, who were sometimes buried two or 
three to a box, were several months old, and their bodies were 
sometimes decorated with protective beads and amulets. The 
boxes in which they were buried had been used originally for 
other purposes, such as holding clothes, tools and other 

As far as can be determined, the practice of interring bodies at 
domestic sites was not an Egyptian one. From early times, most 
communities had taken their dead and buried them on the edges 
of the desert, to leave the cultivation free for agricultural and 
domestic purposes. However, such customs were practised 
elsewhere in the ancient Near East. Particularly at Mesopotamian 
sites, in certain periods, the burial of children in wooden boxes 
underneath the floors of houses was an accepted custom. The 
burials at Kahun may again indicate the introduction of foreign 
funerary practices there. The bodies of these children were 
frequently returned to the earth by Petrie, although some were 
brought out and given to museums. Unfortunately, despite an 
intensive search, it has been impossible to trace any of these babies 
in museum collections around the world. One baby was received 
in the Manchester collection, but the rapid deterioration of the 
body led to its later disposal. Possibly the other bodies met a 

138 The town of Kahun 

similar fate, but a detailed study of the anatomy of these remains, 
if they could be located, could provide valuable information not 
only about the possible cause of death but also about the ethnic 
origin of the children. 

The adult cemeteries at Kahun are situated in a number of areas 
in the vicinity of the town and the pyramid. Work on them is 
published in Lahun II. 

Early dynastic tombs were discovered about three quarters of a 
mile south west of the side of the Lahun pyramid, on the edge of 
the cultivation, and these consisted of open graves, shallow and 
deep shaft tombs, and stairway tombs. However, it is from the 
12th Dynasty tombs situated in the vicinity of Sesostris II' s Lahun 
pyramid that some idea can be gained of the original significance 
of the Kahun cemeteries. 

It is evident that the court officials from the reign of Sesostris II 
were buried here, near their king's pyramid in the time-honoured 
fashion. It also seems that, when the king died after a reign of 
some nineteen years, Lahun ceased to be the burial area for 
members of the royal court. Sesostris III built his pyramid at 
Dahshur, and it is likely that his courtiers and officials were buried 
there. A number of tombs at Lahun were unfinished or unoccupied, 
suggesting that these had been planned during Sesostris II' s reign, 
but that their owners had then decided to be buried elsewhere. 

The 12th Dynasty tombs at Lahun are scattered over several 
areas. As already stated, the Kahun temple was the Valley Temple 
of Sesostris II's pyramid. It lay some distance (1.21 km) to the east 
of the pyramid, and in a typical pyramid complex would have 
been joined to the pyramid and its mortuary temple by a covered 
causeway. At Lahun, however, the archaeologists suggested that 
this 'causeway' or line joining the two buildings was a purely 
spiritual concept, and that there was no actual physical 
processional route. No clear route had been left for a roadway 
here, and indeed the 'causeway' line of approach ran through a 
group of deep rock-cut tombs which were apparently of the 12th 
Dynasty. These had all been severely plundered, and had 
frequently been re-used in the Roman period. To the north-west, 
on the higher ground, there was another group of 12th Dynasty 
tombs; again, these had all been plundered. Many others, built in 
the high ridge on the west of the pyramid, were re-used in the 
18th and 19th Dynasties, while, close to the pyramid on the north- 
east, there were ten tombs of the 12th Dynasty, but none of these 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 139 

had ever been occupied. Another ridge, close to the end of the 
dyke which runs out from the modern village of Lahun, contained 
many other tombs of different periods, but these have never been 

Finally, an isolated hill lying further west, known as 'West Hill', 
was found to contain a number of 12th Dynasty tombs, the most 
important of which was the mastaba of Anpy, architect of Sesostris 
II, who was responsible for building the Lahun pyramid and 
presumably also the town of Kahun. 

His tomb, which crowns the hill, is typical of those found in 
the pyramid cemetery; they are larger and are covered by better- 
constructed mastabas than the tombs in the surrounding areas. 
Anpy's tomb (No. 620) was the most elaborate of its type; the owner 
was 'overseer of all the works of the king in the land to its 
boundary', and his names and titles also occur on a stela found at 
Kahun town. The tomb consisted of four underground chambers, 
entered from two shafts, one of which was vertical, the other 
sloping. To the east, partly situated in the hill, was the funerary 
chapel. The mastaba or superstructure of the tomb had almost 
entirely disappeared, but the archaeologists discovered fragments 
of sculpture from the walls of the funerary chapel. These pieces 
indicated that the inside walls of the chapel had been covered 
with offering lists. On one scene, an inscription occurs in front of 

Anpy's children or relatives, one of whom, named Anpy-Senb, 
held an official appointment connected with Kahun. The tomb, 
mostly plundered, contained two pottery cylinders; these objects 
were not uncommon at Kahun town, but only rarely occurred in 
tombs, and their possible purpose will be considered later. Anpy's 
tomb was situated on one of the highest sites, a position favoured 
by the wealthiest nobles buried at Lahun. At least one other 
mastaba (Tomb No. 608) was as large as Anpy's, but it was too 
damaged to plan. 

In fact, only one complete Middle Kingdom tomb was found at 
Lahun, situated on an isolated knoll of rock between the dyke 
and the western ridges. Here, a coffin was found, as well as two 
skeletons, one of a man named Ankh-mesa and the other of a 
woman, but these showed no signs of mummification. From the 
later periods, only a few 18th Dynasty tombs were discovered; 
these included two undisturbed burials in the western quarry near 
the pyramid and the tomb of Maket situated in Kahun town. Later 
cemeteries in the area probably dated to the 22nd to 25th Dynasties 

140 The town of Kahun 

and to the Roman period. From the second century AD, situated 
about a mile to the north of the pyramid, the excavators discovered 
a crocodile cemetery. Mature crocodiles were buried here in pits 
some 1.06 m deep, and young crocodiles were also found in graves, 
together with a quantity of eggs either placed on the mummified 
animals or stored in amphorae. The crocodile was the cult animal 
associated with the god Sobek, whose worship was particularly 
significant in this area. 

The excavations of the cemeteries at Lahun, carried out on behalf 
of the British School of Archaeology in Egypt in three seasons 
(1914, 1920 and 1921), produced some information regarding the 
burials of the inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom town of Kahun. 
The tomb plans of the mastabas belonging to the wealthiest nobles 
indicated that, in each tomb, the architects tried to include as 
many chambers (usually up to four) as time would permit. An 
entrance passage (the length varied in the different tombs) led 
south into one or two rooms, while, in the western portion, a pit 
or trench would be sunk to take the burial; this gave access to the 
burial chamber itself. Because the tombs had been so heavily 
plundered, virtually no human remains were found which could 
have supplied information on the incidence of mummification or 
provided evidence of disease and possibly ethnic types. Only 
examples of 12th Dynasty pottery remained, since the rest of the 
tomb goods had been stolen in antiquity. The archaeologists 
queried whether any distinction could be drawn between the types 
of pottery found in the town and in the tombs. They concluded 
that the tomb pottery did not seem to include special funerary 
styles, but that some of the pottery found in Kahun town was not 
found in the tombs and seemed to have had definite domestic 
uses. In particular, the distinctive incised pottery dishes appear 
to have been found and used only in 'household' contexts. 

However, not all the funerary items were discovered in the 
cemeteries around Kahun. Offering lists, stelae, statuettes and parts 
of tomb wall scenes appear to have been removed from tombs and 
brought to the town. Petrie suggested that the inhabitants of Kahun 
ransacked the tombs for materials towards the end of the 12th 
Dynasty or beginning of the 13th Dynasty. 

Although the much plundered cemeteries are not particularly 
informative about the religious and funerary practices, there is 
nothing to indicate that the tomb-owners had burial customs that 
differed from those at other Egyptian sites. 

Legal and medical practices, education and religion 141 

In general terms, therefore, it is not possible to draw firm 
conclusions about the religious beliefs and practices of the 
inhabitants of Kahun. Some customs suggest that perhaps they 
were introduced by people who were not of Egyptian origin. 
However, because so few of the towns of ancient Egypt have been 
fully excavated, it is unwise to draw conclusions about the 
apparent peculiarities at Kahun. It is not appropriate to assign 
these customs to 'foreign' origins, when they could in fact be 
representative of aspects of Egyptian popular religion for which 
we have relatively little evidence from other excavated sites. 

Nevertheless, it would be equally wrong to conclude that there 
were no foreigners involved in the religious life of the town. Quite 
apart from any private devotions in their own houses, it is evident 
from the papyri that foreigners played a significant if minor role 
in the official temple cult. The deities who were chosen to receive 
official worship at Kahun included Hathor who, although Egyptian 
in origin, had associations beyond Egypt's boundaries and was 
widely accepted in communities elsewhere. Another god who 
apparently received worship at Kahun was Sopdu, who again had 
connections with the region beyond Egypt's eastern Delta. Both 
religious and other evidence indicates that Kahun's inhabitants 
included some people of non-Egyptian origin. The Egyptians, in 
their customary way, probably took the official line that the 
immigrants could continue to worship their own gods, who would 
be absorbed into the Egyptian pantheon, and the official cults in 
the town may have been centred on deities who would appeal 
both to the Egyptians and to the 'foreigners'. It is impossible to 
tell whether the immigrants brought these deities with them to 
Kahun from their original homelands, or whether Egyptian 
officialdom consciously introduced cults at Kahun which they 
knew would be familiar and acceptable to both native and foreign 


Everyday life at Kahun 

Apart from the papyri and literary sources, the objects of daily 
use which were discovered at Kahun provided us with an 
unequalled opportunity to study many aspects of life in a 
Middle Kingdom community. Most of these objects were found 
in a 12th Dynasty context, and unlike so many examples of 
excavated material from Egypt, these were articles of everyday 
use rather than tomb goods intended for the owner's benefit in 
the next world. 

Tomb goods frequently included such items as clothing, 
jewellery and furniture, but some of the most mundane objects of 
common use were never placed in the tombs. For example, the 
implement which the ancient Egyptians designed to produce fire 
was not known to archaeologists before Petrie discovered a number 
of these firesticks at Kahun. Again, other objects, especially some 
of the workmen's tools, were previously known only from the 
tomb wall-paintings. 

Many of the finds from Kahun are therefore particularly 
significant because they enable us to understand how an Egyptian 
town functioned some 4,000 years ago. Some of the discoveries 
were unique, and others provided sufficient information so that 
Egyptologists could begin to assess the developments in various 
branches of ancient technology. 

Hunting, fowling and fishing 

From earliest times, the inhabitants of the Nile valley had hunted 
the game which surrounded them. In c. 5000 BC, the people were 
still living in primitive hunting communities, and the chase, rather 


Everyday life 143 

than being a form of amusement, was a necessary occupation to 
feed and clothe the community. By c. 4000 BC, however, 
agricultural and pastoral methods had arrived in Egypt, and 
hunting became increasingly a secondary pursuit. Gradually, 
people hunted only to supply additional delicacies for the table 
or to amuse themselves, and by the Old Kingdom (c. 2500 BC), 
hunting in the desert and catching fowl in the lush Delta marshes 
had simply become favourite pastimes of the nobility. During this 
period, scenes occur which show the wealthy tomb-owner with 
his family and retainers in the act of hunting, fowling and fishing. 
These were intended to provide the deceased tomb-owner with 
the ability to enjoy for eternity the pleasures of some of his best- 
loved occupations. 

Parts of the open desert were used for the hunt, and also areas 
of the Nile Valley; however, the northern Delta and the Fayoum 
oasis were perhaps the richest preserves. The chase was highly 
organised. Attendants in the service of the wealthy noblemen had 
specific duties; they looked after the hounds, directed the hunt, 
carried darts and hunting poles, and arranged the nets which 
enclosed the ground area into which the animals were to be beaten. 
They used long nets which were supported on forked poles and 
which varied in length to accommodate the different contours of 
the ground. Smaller nets were also employed to stop the gaps. In 
addition to the nets, the Egyptians also pursued the game with 
hounds and the bow and arrow. The hunting bow was very similar 
to that which was used for warfare. The animals most frequently 
hunted included gazelle, the ibex, oryx, wild ox, wild sheep, fox, 
hyena, jackal, wolf, desert hare and leopard. Some animals, such 
as the leopard, were valued for their skins, and ostriches were 
also pursued for their magnificent feathers which were made into 
ornate fans. In addition to their duties at the hunt, the retainers 
also superintended the game preserves and obtained more animals 
to stock them when they became depleted. As well as the animals 
already mentioned, the hippopotamus was hunted in Upper Egypt, 
although it was probably something of a rarity in Lower Egypt 
even in antiquity. As a danger to fields, crops and life, the 
hippopotamus was a favourite target for the hunters; additionally, 
the hide was eagerly sought for making whips, shields, javelins 
and helmets. Another dangerous creature, the crocodile, received 
ambivalent treatment in Egypt. In some areas, especially in the 
Fayoum and around Thebes, the crocodile was regarded as sacred, 

144 The town of Kahun 

and was kept at considerable expense on a diet of geese, fish and 
meat. According to the Greek writer Herodotus [The Histories, Bk 
II, 69), they were also provided with earrings, bracelets and 
necklaces of gold or semi-precious stones. After death, as the cult 
animal of the god Sobek, crocodiles were embalmed. Elsewhere, 
however, they were disliked and destroyed and indeed, both the 
hippopotamus and the crocodile seem to have been both revered 
and regarded as the embodiment of evil at different times and in 
various places in Egypt. 

Kahun would certainly have been a centre for game hunting, 
for it was situated in the fertile Fayoum oasis. In addition to the 
royalty and nobility who enjoyed these pastimes there, the 
ordinary inhabitants of the town would have augmented their basic 
diet with some of these delicacies. Finely polished wooden arrows 
were found there, as well as another hunting weapon, the throw- 
stick. Both symmetric and asymmetric examples of this weapon 
were discovered, and one had been broken and bound together 
with string in antiquity. Tomb scenes again show this activity, 
with throwsticks being used to kill birds. They were flat and made 
of heavy wood, and could travel considerable distances. Fowling 
was in fact a favourite pastime, and the nobility and others made 
expeditions into the thickets of marshland, where birds were in 
plentiful supply, especially in the region around Lake Moeris. At 
the time of the annual inundation, the wild fowl were most 
abundant in the area around the lakes formed by the rising waters. 
The fowling expeditions would sail amongst the reeds in papyrus 
skiffs and the nobleman, accompanied by his family and his 
retainers, is often depicted with a skilful cat who may have been 
trained to retrieve the birds. 

Although the birds were sometimes brought down by throw- 
sticks or arrows, the most common practice was to catch large 
numbers of them in clap-nets which were set up in fields or on 
the surface of a lake. When a sufficiently large number of birds 
had gathered, a signal was given for the trap-net to be closed tight. 
Several kinds of net were developed and used, and the discovery 
of nets of different sizes, netting needles, and clay or stone net 
sinkers at Kahun suggests that quite a number of people were 
engaged in producing the necessary equipment for this sport. 

Another weapon, but with limited use, was the sling. This would 
be employed by gardeners to frighten birds from the crops and 
vineyards. A fine sling was found at Kahun, which may be the 

Everyday life 145 

earliest known example of this type in the world. It is beautifully 
woven, with long cords; one of these has a loop at one end to 
retain it on the finger, while the other end is plain. It was found 
with three small sling stones which were probably flung from the 
sling at the same time, to produce a scatter effect. 

The Egyptians greatly prized fowl as part of their diet, and 
enjoyed partridge, bustard, quail, geese, pigeon and curlew. Some 
birds were preserved in salt, and to meet a demand, in addition to 
the fowling expeditions, the people also introduced methods of 
rearing poultry. Artificial methods of hatching the eggs of fowl 
and geese were developed and the young were reared and sold to 
poultry-yards. The eggs of some birds especially prized as food 
were supplied by the poulterers for the tables of the wealthy. 

Further variety was also given to the diet by the provision of 
different kinds of fish. The Nile supplied a rich harvest for the 
fishermen, and this made a major contribution to the food of a 
country which had only limited pastures and herds of cattle. 

The waters of the river brought the fish harvest to most villages 
in the Nile valley at the time of the inundation. There were also 
small lakes or ponds in the gardens of large houses, where fish 
were fed for the table. There were a number of ways in which 
fish were caught: the favourite method, especially amongst the 
wealthy, was to use a bident spear with two barbed points, which 
was thrust into the fish as it glided past. The poorer people fished 
with a short rod which usually had a single line, although 
sometimes a double line was used; each line had its own hook, 
and a copper example was found at Kahun. Sometimes, also, the 
fish were caught with a drag-net, either trawled between two 
boats, or with two men working on either side of a pool. As a 
centre of weaving, Kahun produced nets for fishing as well as 
for catching birds. 

The fish were either eaten immediately they were caught, or 
they were preserved; the fish were slit open, and then salted and 
placed in the sun to dry. Some fish were especially good to eat 
because they had more flavour, and some of the best were found 
in the Fayoum. As well as being cured or sold at market, a quantity 
of fish was also put aside to feed sacred temple animals. 

Although, by the historic period, the nobility and the wealthy 
hunted and fished only for sport, others pursued these activities 
to feed their families and to take the surplus to market. However, 
these activities supplied only part of the people's food 

146 The town of Kahun 

requirements, and from early times, cultivation of crops and 
animal husbandry provided the basic diet of the Egyptians. 

Agriculture, animal husbandry and horticulture 

From the Neolithic Period in Egypt (c. 4000 BC), crop production 
and the rearing of livestock for milk, meat and leather had been 
the main occupations of most of the people. Although, by the 
Archaic Period, Egypt was developing a highly organised and 
centralised bureaucracy which employed many officials and 
scribes as well as artisans, the majority of people remained peasant 
farmers, who produced the food for the rest of society. 

Every town and village possessed an agricultural support 
system, and Kahun was no exception. It is evident from the objects 
found in the houses that at least some of the inhabitants were 
involved in this, to provide food not only to meet their own 
requirements, but also to feed the officials and craftsmen of the 

The Egyptians kept various domestic animals. Cattle, sheep and 
goats provided meat, milk and clothing. Although woollen 
garments were not usually depicted in sacred wall scenes in 
temples or tombs nor included amongst tomb goods, because they 
were not considered to be ritually 'pure', the Egyptians 
undoubtedly possessed and wore them. For much the same 
reasons, because they were considered unclean, pigs were not 
represented in tomb scenes, but they were kept as domestic 
animals. However, cattle, sheep and goats appear in tomb scenes, 
and indeed, several kinds of cattle were quite clearly differentiated. 
Donkeys also occur, and were widely employed as beasts of 
burden, while other animals were put to additional use, pulling 
ploughs and treading the grain. 

Evidence from Kahun indicates that cereal crops (wheat and 
barley) were grown in the fields nearby, while vegetables, fruit 
and flowers were cultivated in the gardens. 

The agricultural implements found in the houses were similar 
to those depicted in the tomb scenes. It seems that, around 3000 
BC, there had been great advances in early technology in Egypt, 
although our view of this may be influenced to some extent by 
the fact that, from this time onwards, there is more information 
about various aspects of life in Egypt because of the development 
of tombs and tomb scenes, as well as increased funerary goods. 

Everyday life 147 

However, until the end of the 4th millennium BC, it was 
undoubtedly the invention of the plough which, as a technological 
development, had the greatest effect on society. This invention 
resulted in vast improvements in crop yield because it allowed 
the farmer to sow his seed consistently and evenly in rows; it also 
facilitated weeding. A wooden plough coulter and a bronze 
ploughshare were both found at Kahun, as well as the wooden 
hoes and rakes which were used to clear the ground before 
ploughing commenced. The rakes were roughly cut from a single 
piece of wood and were much worn; they were cut along one side 
into large teeth which, in different examples, numbered between 
seven and ten. The wooden hoe was developed in Egypt c. 4000 
BC. The Kahun examples were of the simplest kind, with the 
wooden blades (broad and flat in some cases and thick and narrow 
in others) and the handle inserted into each other and bound 
together in the middle with a twisted rope. This same method of 
attachment is shown in the tomb scenes. The blade and handle 
were pierced with holes or grooved to take the rope, and some of 
the hoes have curved handles. 

In addition to rakes and hoes, the Egyptians used wooden mallets 
to break up the heavy clods of earth. Examples of these were found, 
cut from single pieces of wood. The earliest illustrations of 
ploughing in Egypt showed oxen harnessed to a plough by a yoke 
attached to the front of the animal's horns. This was later replaced 
by the more efficient shoulder yoke which was put over the animal's 
shoulders and required no further harnessing. 

Ancient ploughing methods produced only narrow, shallow 
furrows; once this part of the work was complete, the farmer then 
sowed his seed. The grains found at Kahun included wheat and 
barley; however, early reports indicated that large quantities of 
weed-seed were also recovered and included clover, flax, oats, 
spiny medick, dock and poppy. This indicated that the fields were 
infested with many of the same weeds that occur today. 
Unfortunately these plant remains are no longer available for 
modern identification. 

Implements were also discovered that had been used in 
antiquity to reap the crop. The sickles were based on the form of 
an animal's jawbone. In some cases, an animal jawbone was turned 
into a sickle by setting flints in the teeth sockets, but in other 
instances, the body of the sickle was made of wood, usually 
constructed of two or three pieces joined together, because of the 

148 The town of Kahun 

difficulty of obtaining a single piece from which the required shape 
could be carved. A groove was made along the inside of the handle, 
and a line of short flint blades was set into this and held in place 
with cement made of mud and glue. Such flint blades were 
frequently discovered, and had distinctively worn, serrated edges, 
but the Kahun sickles showed these flint saws in position and 
confirmed their use. One example was made either as a 
backhanded sickle or for use by a left-handed person. 

Once the reaping was completed, the grain was then packed 
into baskets, to be taken by donkey to the threshing floor where it 
was trodden by animals. Various baskets, made of plaited palm- 
leaves and fibre, were discovered at Kahun, and some may have 
been used for harvesting. Next, the grain was winnowed, using 
wooden scoops, in order to separate the chaff from the wheat — an 
activity depicted in some tomb scenes. Finally, the grain was 
collected off the threshing floor using wooden grain scoops. 

The grain was next weighed and then taken to a storage area, 
before it was reduced to flour. First, it was ground in a stone mortar 
with a heavy pestle; in the Kahun example the limestone mortar 
has a deep bowl shape, while the limestone pestle is of a 
cylindrical shape and rounded at one end. The flour was then 
ground even more finely between two stones, with the addition 
of sand to aid the process. The flat lower millstone was used in 
conjunction with a rounded rubber or pebble, and again, these 
have been discovered in the town. It was this method of preparing 
the flour, in addition to sand in the environment and atmosphere, 
which was largely responsible for the condition of the ancient 
Egyptians' teeth. They ate large quantities of bread, and although 
they did not suffer greatly from caries before the Graeco-Roman 
Period, there is ample evidence that by adolescence, the diet of 
gritty bread had affected most people's teeth. In most of the skulls 
and mummies which have been examined, it has been found that 
the outer surface of the teeth had been worn away and in some 
cases this led to severe dental problems. 

At Kahun, Petrie found examples of most of the implements 
which would have been used for the various stages of crop 
production, harvesting and grinding the corn into flour. 

Here, also, considerable attention was given to cultivating 
trees, shrubs and vegetables. Doubtless, the shaduf (a water- 
lifting device) was used to bring an increased volume of water 
to the area under cultivation. The shaduf, which can still be 

Everyday life 149 

seen in parts of Egypt today, consists of a beam pivoted on top of 
an upright post. At one end of the beam, there is a rope with a 
water-container at its end and at the other end is a counterweight. 
The water container is lowered into the river or canal by hand; 
it is raised and emptied into an irrigation channel, and then 
lowered back into the river. This, although slow and tedious, 
increases the volume of water that one man can raise, and in 
Egypt, this method was not improved upon until the water-wheel 
(where an animal provided the power) was introduced many 
centuries later. 

The garden produce from Kahun indicates that the townspeople 
grew peas and beans as well as cucumbers. Two radishes were 
also identified, and these are of particular interest since the 
Classical writer Herodotus claimed that radishes were one element 
of the payment provided by the state for the workmen engaged on 
the Great Pyramid at Giza. Radishes were perhaps cultivated at 
Kahun for the same purpose, to provide sustenance for the 
workmen who built the Lahun pyramid. 

Houses and furniture 

The layout and general construction of the houses at Kahun has 
already been described. The major industry connected with house 
building was the production of mud-bricks and the Egyptians used 
unfired mud-bricks for all domestic buildings, including their 
royal palaces. Sun-dried mud-brick was the earliest domestic 
building material used throughout the ancient Near East and a 
scene in the 18th Dynasty tomb of Rekhmire at Thebes shows the 
process of mud-brick manufacture. Alluvial mud was mixed with 
water, and then packed into wooden moulds; these moulds were 
then removed, leaving the bricks to dry in the sun arranged in 
long rows. At Kahun, not only did the walls of the houses survive, 
but Petrie even discovered a mould — the first tangible evidence 
of the industry to be found at any site. 

This wooden mould was oblong, and the four sides were 
carefully fitted and pegged together; one side projected beyond 
the corner to form a handle with which the mould could be lifted 
to allow the moulded brick to fall to the ground. 

It is evident that this 12th Dynasty example is the forerunner 
of those depicted in the tomb of the Rekhmire and in the scene 
of King Taharka (25th Dynasty) making bricks, which occurs in 

150 The town of Kahun 

the Temple of Medinet Habu. Ancient peoples soon discovered 
that objects as well as bricks could be modelled from clay and 
that the material could be hardened by firing. However, in Egypt, 
although kiln-baked pottery is in evidence from early times, there 
was no urgency to introduce baked bricks, since the dry climate 
ensured that sun-dried bricks lasted for many years. Thus, kiln- 
baked bricks were only widely introduced in the Roman period, 
and even today, houses in country villages are often built of sun- 
dried bricks, which are produced in moulds almost identical to 
the ancient ones. 

Once the building was erected, it had to be plastered with a 
layer of mud. Again, the plasterers' floats found at Kahun are 
almost the same as those in use today. One float was larger, 
intended for applying the rough coat of plaster. It was made 
of one piece of wood, and the bevelled end which projects 
out from the handle was to allow the plasterer to get into the 
corners of the room without touching the plaster on the 
adjoining wall. Some plaster still remains on this float, where 
the ancient workmen forgot to completely clean it some 4,000 
years ago. 

The smaller, lighter float, carved from one block of wood, was 
used for putting on the facing coat. This also retains a smearing of 
mud-plaster as it was left by its last owner. 

The houses were fitted with wooden doors, and an almost 
complete example is in the Manchester collection. Door-bolts were 
also discovered; some were single and others were double. The 
wooden blocks into which the door-bolts slid were set into the 
door near the edge by means of a tenon and were fixed with a pin 
in the edge of the door. If it was a single door, the bolt slid through 
one door block and into the wall; if it was a double door, the double 
bolt passed through the two blocks on the edges of the double 
door. One double door-bolt which was found was cut from one 
piece of hard wood, and was flat on one side and carefully rounded 
on the other. It corresponds closely to the hieroglyphic sign which 
represents a double bolt. 

A wooden key was also discovered. This was a cylindrical piece 
of wood, which at one end was pierced to a depth of 1.9 cm. This 
key was thrust through a hole in the door, and the two strings 
knotted through the pierced holes pushed back the bolt (of which 
no ancient example has yet been discovered), which fastened the 
door inside. The purpose of this object and the method of using it 

Everyday life 151 

were first identified in 1907, when a certain Herr Krencher 
observed an almost identical key in Abyssinia. 

Inside the houses, the floors were made of a layer of clay. 
There was little furniture; seats were provided, and also 
containers for personal possessions. Seats were used which 
were cut from one stone block; a section of stone was cut away 
underneath to create two legs, and the seat was slightly 
hollowed out to provide more comfort. Parts of wooden chairs 
were also found. These had apparently had carved legs, and all 
the angles were strengthened by L-shaped angle pieces (cut out 
of selected curve-grained wood) which were attached with a 
large number of wooden pins. 

One chair was obviously finely constructed, using a dark wood 
and ivory pegs, but some other pieces of furniture were very coarse, 
such as an oblong stool with four legs which was cut from one 
block of wood and roughly finished. 

Possessions were kept in wooden boxes. Some were small and 
contained personal items; one was obviously a make-up box and 
included powdered haematite, a kohl-stick and juniper berries 
for colouring the face, whereas another contained two strings of 
glazed pottery, garnet, quartz, carnelian and amethyst beads. The 
boxes were constructed so that the lid fitted into the box in such 
a way that the lid could not be raised at one end. On the other end 
there was a knob which could be fastened down with thread to 
another knob on the end of the box. Larger boxes, probably 
originally used to contain clothing and other possessions, were 
found to hold baby burials and also, sometimes, beads which were 
inscribed with the names of the 12th Dynasty rulers, thus fixing 
the date of the burials. 

For sleeping purposes the Egyptians used headrests which 
supported the head and lifted it off the ground. Although these 
would appear to be most uncomfortable, they were widely used 
and were regarded as a more hygienic option than pillows or 
cushions. Fine examples of these occur in some tombs, carved in 
stone or alabaster, and these were obviously used in some houses 
in the owner's lifetime. However, at Kahun, the only examples 
are crudely carved from stone and curved slightly at the top to 
receive the head. 

One remarkable discovery was the firestick. Previously no 
fire-making tools from ancient Egypt had been found, and 
indeed, it was not known by what means the Egyptians 

152 The town of Kahun 

produced fire. The firestick is essentially a bow drill, and the 
complete example discovered at Kahun revealed the method 
of use. It consisted of four parts: a drill cap, a matrix, a firestick 
and a bow. The drill cap was made of a conical stone, flattened 
on the base and drilled with a circular hole into which was 
inserted the upper end of the wooden firestick. This was 
carefully smoothed and carved to swell out slightly at the 
rounded ends. The lower end of the firestick would have been 
inserted into the wooden matrix, which was a rough strip of 
wood, drilled with a number of holes which were blackened 
by the action of the firestick. Finally, there was the bow, made 
of a narrow piece of wood curved widely at one end; it was 
bored with rectangular holes near each end which were 
intended to receive a length of string to complete the bow. Heavy 
pressure exerted by the user on the drill cap would press the 
firestick into the matrix hole, and the simultaneous movement 
of the drill bow caused sparks to ignite at the matrix. A quantity 
of very dry leaves and twigs would be kept close at hand to 
kindle the fire once the sparks appeared. One matrix did not 
appear to be burnt in the holes but was very deeply drilled, 
and Petrie suggested that it may have been a trial piece for a 
learner. The discovery of the firestick was very important; 
because of the scarcity of wood in Egypt, most would have been 
used as fuel as soon as their purpose had been served, and 
therefore, very few complete examples of this fire-making 
implement are likely to be found. 

Culinary equipment at Kahun was also recovered. Grains of 
wheat and barley were found in the houses, as well as the 
equipment to grind them into flour. Wooden scoops and bowls 
also occurred; these were common at Kahun, but are rare later. 
Some were plain, but others were carved to incorporate a handle. 
One shell implement was pierced on one side and the hole was 
closely bound with a rush to form a handle; the cutting edge was 
serrated. Its use remains uncertain but Petrie suggested that it 
might have been used as a scoop for soft fruit. Limestone and 
sandstone whetstones were also found, for sharpening tools. 

The pottery from Kahun falls into several categories. Some 
vessels, found in special circumstances, can definitely be 
attributed to the 12th Dynasty; these include the temple foundation 
deposit pottery, the material found in a box together with cylinder 
seals of the 12th Dynasty, and pottery from the masons' rubbish 

Everyday life 153 

heap. Other pottery which Petrieassigned to the same period was 
dated thus because he found it in the town, usually in rooms which 
had been deserted and then filled up with the rubbish from 
neighbouring houses. 

This differed markedly from the pottery of later periods. The 
common-place 12th Dynasty pottery was either coarse, rough and 
brownish-grey in colour; or a softer brown ware; or of a thin, fine, 
reddish-brown clay which was often washed over with red, and, 
from the clay marks inside the pot, there was evidence that the 
potter had used upwards streaking with the fingers instead of 
turning the pot. This pottery was all in marked contrast to the 
rough red tile of later periods, or the fine drab ware of the 26th 
Dynasty, or the polished light drab and light brown of the 18th 

The styles of the 18th Dynasty domestic pottery had changed 
almost entirely from those of the 12th Dynasty, and Petrie could 
only identify any evidence of continuation in a few examples, 
such as the pilgrim vases. Therefore the 12th Dynasty pottery can 
almost certainly be characterised by distinctive styles. 

Some groups are of particular interest. There are numbers of 
pottery stands, which were used both to hold dry food on a 
raised dish, and also to support porous jars containing liquid. 
If such ajar was placed directly on the ground, it would 
accumulate dirt and grit, whereas on a ring stand, the pot always 
remained clean. An alternative means of support was provided 
by stone stands, usually made of soft limestone; these were 
generally rectangular with four feet, although some were 
circular and had three feet. They supported one or two jars 
which were placed in conical holes, and often there was a 
groove which caught and led off the water which seeped through 
the porous jar. 

Many incised pottery dishes were also discovered. Petrie 
suggested that these were used to serve food, since one example 
had a raised centre. They have a rough surface and therefore were 
probably not used for cooking or serving wet or juicy food. They 
were generally oval in shape, and incised on the inside with 
patterns; some of these were derived from basketwork designs, 
whereas others incorporated lotus flowers, fish and lions. 

Some items were unusual and interesting; one pot which was 
closed below but perhaps originally had skin stretched tightly 
across the top may have been a drum, rather like the modern 

154 The town of Kahun 

darabuka. There were plain pottery cones, which were perhaps 
used as strainers; dishes with two loops inside at the bottom which 
were probably used in spinning; and pottery offering trays which 
had a space for pouring out libations and also pottery 
representations which included a bull's head, bird, haunch of 
meat, wine jars, flat and conical cakes, and radishes. One fragment 
of pottery was discovered which had a fine smooth surface applied 
to it which was then marked with black pigment to imitate marble 
and serpentine. 

An unusual pottery object was found at Kahun which is similar 
to examples discovered at Deir el-Medina and Gurob. These are 
pottery 'coops' which are pierced with air-holes and fitted with a 
sliding door. The Kahun example was found in a 12th Dynasty 
rubbish heap in the northern part of the town. It had been partly 
broken while in use, because the handle was missing from the 
top, and one of the holes had been filled up with plaster, 
presumably when repairs were being carried out on it in antiquity. 
Various purposes have been suggested for these objects. It has been 
claimed that they may have been used to kindle a fire or to carry 
fire to a hearth, but there is no evidence of burning on them. Again, 
they may have been used as portable ovens. When Winifred 
Blackman lived at the modern Lahun village in the 1920s, she 
noted that the houses had both 'fixture' ovens and portable ovens 
for bread-baking. 

However, Petrie believed that the holes were present because 
these containers were used for keeping live animals. He 
suggested that they may have held hatching eggs, and that the 
chicks would not stray when they emerged but could be carried 
away in the warm pottery cage without chilling. He noted that 
artificial hatching methods of this type existed in Roman 
times, and that they may have been used earlier for duck and 
goose eggs. Finally, another suggestion is that they were used 
to catch rats. Kahun certainly suffered from vermin, but the 
idea of the 'coops' as artificial hatcheries is perhaps most 

Pottery from Kahun was found in several areas; some came from 
the tombs, some was from the temple foundation deposits, and 
some was discovered in the stonemasons' pottery heap just north 
of the temple, outside the town wall. Here, little dishes were found 
which were similar to those uncovered at the pyramid site of 
Dahshur as well as near the Lahun pyramid. 

Everyday life 155 

As already noted, some differences distinguished the domestic 
or secular pottery from Kahun from the funerary and religious 
wares. However, examples of one type — long, pipe-like objects — 
were found in the town and also in the temple foundation deposit. 
One of these objects, now in the Manchester Museum collection, 
was examined in the 1970s by a research chemist and beekeeper, 
Mr H.Inglesent, and his investigation has revealed the true 
significance of these pottery 'tubes', which had not previously 
been identified. 

It is known that beekeeping was one of the important minor 
industries in ancient Egypt. From as early a time as the Old 
Kingdom, references to honey occur, and it also appears in lists of 
tribute and of offerings to gods in the temple rituals. Honey was 
also an important medicinal aid and appears in various medical 

However, only four representations of beekeeping are known 
from ancient Egypt. The earliest occurred on a wall section 
from the solar temple of Niuserre, now in the Berlin Museum; 
it shows various stages in the process. Another scene in the 
Tomb of Rekhmire at Thebes shows jars of honey and 
honeycombs, while the taking of honey is depicted in the 25th 
Dynasty tomb of Pa-bes at Thebes. In this, cylindrical hives 
are shown, which were probably typical of Egypt. Finally, 
another scene occurs in a Theban tomb (18th Dynasty) but 
this is now barely visible. 

Lucas, the chemist who carried out many experiments on 
ancient Egyptian materials, described his examination of two 
small pottery jars from the tomb of Tutankhamun (18th 
Dynasty) at Thebes. These jars were identified by Hieratic 
inscriptions as containers of 'honey of good quality', but 
chemical tests carried out on the very small quantity of 
remaining contents gave negative results. Another 
examination of a New Kingdom specimen by a different 
scientist also produced similar results. 

Apart from the analyses of jar contents and the information from 
the tomb scenes, there were literary indications that beekeeping 
was practised in ancient Egypt, but no actual apiaries had ever 
been discovered. Nevertheless, sufficient evidence existed to 
indicate that there was a beekeeping industry, and that the hives 
were cylindrical and, piled on top of each other, were built up in 
the form of a wall. Despite the absence of written records about 

156 The town of Kahun 

the process, it is fair to assume that ancient Egyptian beekeeping 
techniques were similar to those of the present day. 

Inglesent's aim was to examine the large collection of 
Egyptian pottery at the Manchester Museum, to ascertain 
whether any of the pots had been used to store honey. In 
examining the unidentified pottery 'tube' from Kahun, he 
brushed out the contents and established that these were mainly 
fragments of ceramic material from the pot, mixed with some 
black flakes which were identified as chitin. However, he also 
discovered two lumps of material adhering firmly to the inside 
of the tube. These were removed and analysed, and were found 
to contain a substantial amount of material derived from 
beeswax. The extracted residue was examined microscopically 
and pollen was found as well as the metatarsus of a bee, 
examined and identified microscopically as being from apis 
mellifera. Inglesent has concluded that these two pieces were 
part of the hive 'debris' and that the pottery tubes were in fact 
ancient Egyptian hives. It would not be surprising to find such 
hives in both secular and religious contexts, since honey was 
part of the divine food. Again, the Kahun material has supplied 
an example of an object which was previously known only from 
tomb scenes or literary sources. 

There is a wide range of pottery at Kahun used for many 
domestic and other purposes. Some of this pottery, Petrie claimed, 
was foreign, and had been introduced by Kahun's immigrant 
residents. The evidence for the 'foreigners' at Kahun and the 
associated pottery will be considered later. However, there is ample 
evidence to indicate that, in addition to any imported ware, the 
town had its own flourishing pottery industry. 

Apart from the vast numbers of pots which have been recovered 
from Egyptian sites, scenes in tombs at Beni Hasan and Thebes 
illustrate the sequences involved in making pots — mixing the clay 
and turning, baking and polishing the vases. The clay was usually 
trodden by men to make it homogeneous. It was then worked and 
formed into a lump of a convenient size, before it was placed on 
the wheel. The 'wheel' was probably introduced early in Egypt, 
to meet an increased demand for pottery. It was more accurately a 
low turntable of simple construction, probably made of wood or 
clay and pivoted into a socketed stone at the base. 

The prepared clay was taken by the potter, who squatted at 
the wheel, and placed in the centre of the turntable. He turned 

Everyday life 157 

this with one hand, while he used his other hand to shape the 
clay into the desired form. The vessel was then cut off, any 
ornamentation was added with a wooden or metal instrument, 
and the object was removed to the kiln. This simple turntable 
was introduced as an improvement on earlier methods of 
making pottery — building up the vessel with a succession of 
clay rings, or hand-modelling. With some minor developments, 
it remained the most advanced method of pottery production 
for many years until, c. 700 BC or later, another innovation — 
the true 'potter's wheel' — was introduced which, with its 
continuous rotation, further increased the methods of 

Once they had been dried on planks of wood, the vessels 
were carried on trays to the kiln. The Egyptian kilns, known 
from tomb scenes, were tall structures which resembled 
chimneys. They were open at the top and some had a platform 
at one side so that the potter could place his vessels inside the 
kiln through the top opening, which was partially closed with 
a capping of stone or mud. It is unclear whether there were 
platforms inside the kiln to receive the wares, or whether they 
were simply piled inside. The introduction of the kiln and the 
turntable as production methods required the potter to produce 
a finer, smoother and more uniform body of clay, so that the 
particles would not catch in his hands as the clay rotated on 
the wheel, and would not shrink unevenly in the kiln. 
Therefore, even in early times, pottery-making was highly 
skilled and organised in Egypt, although in later periods, it 
never achieved the standard of excellence which is found in 
some other areas. The clay was not of a sufficiently fine quality 
to enable the Egyptians to manufacture very fine pottery, and 
the industry remained one of the few in Egypt which did not 
aspire to an art-form of excellence. Pottery making remained 
to a large extent a means of producing domestic and utilitarian 

Clothing, personal possessions and adornment 

The houses at Kahun supplied evidence not only of their 
owners' household goods but also of their personal 
possessions. One man had left behind his walking stick, which 
was made of wood and was well shaped and smooth; its lower 

158 The town of Kahun 

end was well worn and gave every indication of much use. 
However, the production of clothing was obviously a major 
industry in the town and ample evidence exists of spinning 
and weaving, which will be considered later. In addition to 
linen and woollen clothing, the residents also required 
footwear, and sandals of neatly bound rushes were discovered, 
as well as leather shoes and sandals. These will be discussed 
in more detail in Chapter 11. 

The women of Kahun used a range of cosmetics and beauty 
aids which reflect the elegance of their lifestyle even in this remote 
town. These personal possessions, left in the houses, are important. 
Most of our knowledge of such groups of antiquities is based on 
discoveries made in the tombs, and it could be argued that such 
luxurious tomb goods were collected and prepared for a specific 
purpose, rather than reflecting the average standard of everyday 
existence. However, there is no doubt that the Kahun finds 
illustrate the quality of goods used every day. 

From earliest times the ancient Egyptian women paid 
considerable attention to the enhancement and preservation of 
their beauty. The creams and oils with which they adorned 
themselves were kept in containers which illustrate their love of 
elegant and beautiful possessions. By 2500 BC oils were pressed 
from various fruits in Egypt, using a simple bag press. This method 
was used to extract olive oil and the aromatic oils for flavourings 
and scents. A major industry developed in cosmetics, and some 
plants and herbs were specially cultivated in Egypt for this, while 
others were sought elsewhere in Africa. 

The early cosmetics were made of animal fats or plant oils and 
were heavily scented with aromatic substances. These precious 
unguents were stored in jars or bottles which were made of stone, 
pottery and, later, glass. 

Various small containers were discovered at Kahun, and some 
of these were of stone. Alabaster, porphyry, basalt and serpentine 
were used which the Egyptians had known since earliest times, 
selecting them for their fine colouring or translucent qualities. 
However, at Kahun some cosmetic vases occurred which were 
made of a fine-grained, bluish-grey marble; this, Petrie stated, was 
used in Egypt only in the 12th Dynasty and had perhaps been 
introduced from an area to the north of the Mediterranean. By 
the Old Kingdom, the Egyptians had perfected their skills in 
producing stone vases of all sizes, and this had long been a major 




160 The town of Kahun 

industry. The method was to rough-cut a solid block of stone to 
the required shape; a drill was then used to hollow out the centre 
of the vase. The bow-drill had been devised for this purpose and 
the drill, fitted with a crescent-shaped flint bit, was turned by 
hand. Heavy stones were attached to the drill handle to provide 
weight, and for large vessels the device was rotated by two men. 
Once the vase was hollowed out, the surface was polished with a 
sandstone rubber to give it a fine finish. 

From the earliest times, the Egyptians had used paints to outline 
their eyes. These were probably first introduced to shade the eyes 
from the glare of the sun, and to give protection against eye 
diseases. Kohl, used to delineate the eyes, was made from the 
minerals malachite (green) and galena (grey). These were ground 
up using a palette and pebble, and the substance was then stored 
in kohl-jars. Even in the predynastic graves, the deceased was 
provided with slate palettes and pebbles and little bags of galena 
or malachite for use in the next life. 

Later, tube-shaped kohl-pots were used, which were either 
single or compound and probably included different colours in 
the separate sections. The kohl was removed from the jars and 
applied to the eyes by means of a bulbous-ended kohl-stick. 
However, in the 12th Dynasty town of Kahun, most kohl containers 
were dumpy stone vases. Sometimes they had small handles and 
were always of stone-alabaster, serpentine and diorite being 
favourite materials. Almost all these vases had broad, flat neck- 
pieces, which were fixed on separately. 

Dried herbs and fruits were also discovered, which were 
ground down for use in cosmetics and one small wooden box 
contained juniper berries. The Egyptians also used minerals 
for cosmetics. These included red and yellow ochres and blue 
and green copper ores, which were ground to a fine powder 
with a stone pestle and mortar and then mixed with animal 
fats to make face colouring and eye-shadow. At Kahun, 
rectangular trays of syenite, granite and basalt were discovered 
for grinding paint and ink; there were also rubbers — pebbles 
flattened at one broad end and stained with red paint — and the 
colours included haematite (for red colouring), yellow ochre, 
and blue pigment. 

Other toilet articles included bronze mirrors, one of which had 
a magnificent ivory handle in the form of a lotus flower; another, 
already mentioned, had a wooden handle which represented the 

Everyday life 161 

head of the goddess Hathor. There were many ivory hairpins which 
took a variety of forms; the head of one was shaped in the form of 
an animal's head, while the head of another took the form of an 
outstretched hand. Wooden combs were also found; one example 
was a double comb, with rows of fine and coarse teeth. Pieces of 
ivory carving in the form of lions came from some toilet boxes, 
and the bowls of fine wooden toilet spoons (used to scoop the 
perfumed cream from the jars or to pour scented oils over the 
body) were carved, in one instance, to represent a duck's head 
with a red ivory beak, and in another, to resemble a shell. Petrie 
also found examples of a bronze hair-curler, a rotating razor, and 
pairs of tweezers. 

The evidence suggests that luxury goods were an accepted part 
of life at Kahun, and it is also interesting that some features of the 
female residents' beauty equipment reflected the royal fashions 
of the period. 

Jewellery was also widely worn, and it is evident that 
various industries had developed to supply this need. Ivory 
and glazed ear studs were found, which were inserted into 
large holes pierced in the wearer's ear-lobe. The manufacture 
of beads was also well developed, and Petrie suggested that, 
because only small numbers of any one kind were found, they 
may have been made to order rather than mass-produced. With 
regard to style and design, there was less variation than in 
later times, but the quality was generally better. The beads 
were perforated by means of a bow-drill, and sand was 
probably used as an abrasive. Materials which were 
distinctively of the Middle Kingdom period included 
amethyst, garnet, blue glazed quartz and green glazed steatite, 
and examples of these were common at Kahun. No glass beads 
were found, since these mostly date to a later period, but other 
typically Middle Kingdom decorative forms which were found 
at Kahun included small figurines of birds and animals in blue 
or green glaze. Generally the jewellery at Kahun was 
distinguished by the bright colour of the glaze and the fineness 
of the decorative lines. 

Scarabs were a particularly favoured type of amuletic jewellery 
in ancient Egypt. Modelled to represent the sacred dung beetle, 
they symbolised the eternal renewal of life and were considered 
to provide protection in life and in death for the possessor. The 
flat undersides of scarabs, although sometimes plain, more 

162 The town of Kahun 

frequently bore a carved design which often incorporated the 
names of kings or gods or a motif designed to bring good fortune 
and health to the wearer. At Kahun, Petrie also discovered much 
later scarabs of the 18th Dynasty which belonged to the intrusive 
burials of that period. However, those of the 12th Dynasty were 
also recovered, often with distinctive patterns on the base, and 
one was found in the masons' spoil heap of chips near the pyramid 
of Sesostris II at Lahun. Scarabs are useful in dating sites, because 
they are frequently inscribed with the names of current rulers. 
Here, a scarab inscribed with the name of King Neferhotep of the 
13th Dynasty, found in a room near the centre of the town together 
with some papyri, is the latest dated excavated object from the 
first occupation of the town, and can assist in establishing a 
chronology of events at Kahun. 

Toys and games 

Although 'toys' and 'dolls' have been found in Egyptian tombs, 
the exact nature of their purpose is never entirely clear. Were these 
objects intended as playthings for the deceased owner in the next 
world, or, as has sometimes been claimed, did they have magico- 
religious significance, as models to be 'brought to life' to provide 
enjoyment for the tomb-owner? 

There can be no doubt, however, about the intended use of the 
toys and games found at Kahun. They were made for and used by 
the children as they played in the streets of the town; indeed, the 
children probably modelled some of the toys themselves, for their 
own amusement. 

An abundance of toys has survived. First, there were the clay 
figurines, assiduously modelled perhaps by the children from 
the grey Nile mud. They include a small model of a man, a 
hippopotamus, a pig, a crocodile, an ape in black clay with 
beads inserted to represent eyes, little vases, and an 
unidentifiable animal which was perhaps the handiwork of a 
less artistically able child. There is also a model of a boat with 
two seats (one of which is pierced with a hole to take a mast) 
and the remains of a rudder. Limestone toys, carved and often 
painted, were also popular. The hippopotamus was a favourite 
form, and also occurs as a unique flint toy chipped in outline 
from a thin flint flake. One limestone toy is carved to represent 
two boys wrestling; the arms and figures are in relief, and the 

Everyday life 163 

detail on the heads is carefully worked. Another shows the 
figurine of a seated boy nursing a monkey on which traces of 
red paint remain. 

It is also evident that a doll-making industry existed at Kahun. 
Parts of painted wooden dolls with pegged, movable limbs were 
found, as well as dolls of blue glazed pottery which were 
truncated at the knees and held their hands at their sides. These 
were decorated with tattoo patterns of spots or lines on their 
thighs and with a girdle line around the waist. In one house — 
presumably the doll-maker's home — Petrie found a large stock 
of dolls' hair. This was constructed so that fine threads, all about 
6 inches long, were placed together and rolled with mud, and a 
conical lump of mud was placed at the end of each section of 
hair. He suggested that this style, with mud pellets at the ends, 
may have been copied from the hairdressing of the day, which, 
in his time, could still be seen in parts of modern Sudan. The 
hair sections would have been inserted into holes in the doll's 
head and these were obviously treasured and quite 
sophisticated toys. 

Ball games were also played at Kahun. Some balls were roughly 
shaped in wood, while others were made of leather. One has six 
gores sewn together and is stuffed with dried grass; one of the 
gores had obviously cracked and had been carefully re-stitched 
in antiquity. 

The streets of Kahun also reverberated to the noise of whip 
tops and tip-cats, and a number of wooden whip tops were found, 
each being a circular piece of wood, flattened at one end and 
worked to an obtuse point at the other. 

Wooden tip-cats were also discovered; these were sticks, 
ranging in length and diameter from 16 cm and 3 cm to 6.9 cm 
and 1.5 cm, and pointed at each end. The game, which is known 
from other parts of the world (and particularly from Lancashire, 
where it is called 'Peggy'), was played by hitting the tip-cat into 
the air with a bat or stick; before it landed on the ground, it 
would be hit again, and the person who could hit the 'cat' farthest 
would be the winner. 

Board games were known at Kahun and two kinds were 
discovered. The first, well known from other sources, is called 
Snt (Senet). Two senet-boards were found in the town. One is 
marked out on the inside of a wooden box lid which was once 
attached to a box of the kind used for the baby burials. The 

164 The town of Kahun 

board is marked out in red lines on a white background; there 
are three horizontal rows, each containing ten squares which 
average 3.38 cm. In the bottom row, in the seventh square from 
the left, there is an indistinct trace of Hieratic writing. 
Counting from the left-hand side along the top ten squares, 
the second is marked with the hieroglyphic for '2', the third 
'3', the fourth 'X' and the fifth 'nfr' Along the top edge, the 
second and third squares have a line which brackets them, 
and another line curves around the fifth square. The gaming 
pieces which would have accompanied this board were not 

Another, incomplete senet-board was found. This was made of 
a slab of limestone, on which the lines are lightly incised. When 
it was complete, this board would have been marked out in three 
horizontal rows, each containing ten squares. In the top row, the 
hieroglyph 'nfr' is marked in black in the square first on the left, 
and in the middle row, in the square immediately below it, a cross 
occurs, also painted in black. 

Examples of another game, played or marked with pegs inserted 
in a pottery board, were also discovered by Petrie and, as far as he 
was aware, no similar game had been found elsewhere in Egypt. 
Each of the symmetrical sides of the board was marked with thirty 
holes, and every fifth hole was marked by a cross cut. The 20th 
hole formed a common pool at the end, in which the lines joined 
before returning, and each player had both an up and a down 
track of holes. 

In general terms, the toys and games found at Kahun range 
from comparatively sophisticated pieces which were probably 
produced commercially on a small scale, to the simple toys which 
the children and their parents made. They are particularly 
appealing, and recapture glimpses of life in the town — the men 
sitting on benches outside the houses, playing an engrossing 
game of senet, the children noisily spinning their tops and batting 
their tip-cats in the streets, and small girls proudly clutching 
the treasured dolls with their movable limbs and elaborate 

Craftsmen at Kahun 

A most important aspect of the Kahun material is the wide range 
of craftsmen's tools discovered there, which not only show the 

Everyday life 165 

type of crafts which were carried on but are also important 
indicators of how Egyptian technology was developing in the 12th 

The tools were found in various locations throughout the town 
and its vicinity, but those discovered at three specific sites are 
particularly interesting. 

One group had been left in the corner of a room, close to the 
floor, in a house in the workmen's quarter. These tools were 
contained within a circular rush basket, formed of small bundles 
closely bound together with single rushes. It had a cover and 
cord for suspension and is still in a remarkably good state of 
preservation. Because the basket was buried in the dry dust, 
and nothing came into contact with the metal tools inside, the 
original polish and hammer marks on the bronzes are also 
perfectly preserved. These tools included two copper hatchets 
and two copper chisels; traces of hafting could be seen on the 
backs of both the hatchets but there was no mark of either 
hafting or hammering on the chisels. The larger hatchet was 
broken across the body — a strange discovery, since there was 
no indication that sufficient strain had been applied to the 

There was also a hammer-wrought copper bowl inside the 
basket, and a copper knife was found lying nearby on the ground. 
The whole group obviously comprised a workman's set of tools, 
kept in a basket in readiness for use. 

Another major discovery was the caster's shop. Here, Petrie 
found metal tools and also five moulds for metal casting which 
were made from pieces of earthenware. These were trimmed 
square, and the mould was cut out on the face of the block. This 
was then lined with a coat of fine ash and clay to give the mould 
a smooth surface, and these moulds would be used to take the 
molten metal. Petrie found moulds in the shop for various tools, 
including flat chisels, one with two lugs at the narrow end; a knife, 
which subsequent to casting would probably have been hammered 
out to a larger size; and a small hatchet. This mould may have 
been used to produce the object that he found in a house a few 
doors away. 

Other items discovered in the shop included the socket-head 
of a drill or firestick, two pieces of sandstone whetstone, a horn 
haft, some pieces of wood of uncertain use, flint flakes, and a 
spindle whorl. 

166 The town of Kahun 

The discovery of this shop and its contents enabled Petrie to 
assess the skills of the Kahun metalworkers and the techniques 
which they employed. 

He also found the masons' tools, near the royal monuments at 
Lahun, where they had been left by the workmen. These included 
metal tools and other wooden pieces used in stone-working. 

From these and other discoveries, it is possible to consider 
some of the technologies which were employed at Kahun. Some 
of the residents were evidently skilled in woodworking and 
carpentry and produced furniture, tools, funerary goods and 
coffins. These techniques are often shown in tomb scenes, and 
this was obviously a major industry in Egypt. However, here at 
Kahun, not only the products but even some of the actual tools 
were discovered. Egypt produced relatively little wood and most 
was provided by date and Dom palms, sycamore, tamarisks and 
acacias. It was therefore necessary to import wood from abroad 
to meet certain demands; deal and cedar were brought in from 
Syria, and ebony and other rare woods were obtained from Asia 
and Africa. 

Specific woods were used for different purposes: sycamore 
and sometimes imported cedar were employed for objects which 
required large, thick planks, such as boxes, doors, tables, coffins 
and large statues. Tamarisk was used for items that required 
hard wood, and was especially favoured for tools and tool 
handles. Acacia provided planks and masts for boats, handles 
of tools and weapons, as well as some furniture. The foreign 
woods were mainly put to ornamental uses, and some elegant 
furniture was produced, including boxes, chairs or tables, by 
inlaying ebony with ivory. So desirable were the goods made 
from exotic woods that some native woods were sometimes 
painted to resemble the foreign types, and the paint was applied 
on a thin coating of stucco. The sections of boxes were glued 
together, and a box lid was usually fastened to the base by means 
of two knobs which could be tied together with string and then 

A range of tools was used by the carpenters. These were of the 
usual type, and the blades, made of copper or bronze, were 
fastened by means of leather thongs to the hard wooden handles. 
First, a hand saw (a large knife with a toothed edge) was used to 
reduce the wood to the required size. Since the double saw was 
not employed, each piece of wood had to be cut single-handed. 

Everyday life 167 

To do this, the wooden beam was placed upright in a simple 
vice, held between two posts which were firmly fixed into the 
ground, and it was kept in place by cords. Other tools — the axe 
and the adze — were used for rough shaping. Smaller holes were 
made with the socket-drill, worked by a bow, but mortices and 
carving were done with a wooden-handled chisel. This was 
struck with a wooden mallet; two types of mallet were found at 
Kahun — the club mallet shown in early tomb scenes, and the 
later headed mallet. The 12th Dynasty is obviously the period 
when the form was undergoing change. A final polish was given 
to the wood with planes of sandstone. Plummets and right-angled 
pieces were also used by the carpenter, and he stored his bronze 
nails in a leather bag. 

At Kahun, both metal and flint tools continued to be used side 
by side for woodworking. The axe and chisel, which originated 
as stone or flint tools, were now produced in copper, but stone 
was still employed for some purposes. The development of these 
tools enabled the Egyptians to produce properly jointed furniture, 
and as most examples of the above tools have been found at Kahun, 
they provide an invaluable source for our understanding of Middle 
Kingdom technology. 

Since Kahun was the town of the pyramid workmen, the 
stonemasons were obviously an important sector of the 
community. The Egyptians' expertise in stone working goes back 
to the Predynastic Period, when magnificent vases and vessels 
were carved from hard stones. However, by the Old Kingdom, the 
masons had developed the skills necessary to quarry and dress 
large blocks of stone for pyramid-building. 

At Kahun, various masons' tools were recovered. Wooden 
wedges were found, and clamps (flat pieces of wood with 
expanding ends) for holding stones in position. Petrie noted the 
existence of holes for such clamps in the pyramid pavement at 
Ha war a. Stone and clay plummets were also discovered as well 
as some very interesting wooden offset pieces which were used 
by the masons to face their stone blocks. These are three flat-ended 
wooden sticks of equal length; one is plain but two have a hole 
pierced at one end, which is worked through to the side, and these 
holes were originally threaded with string. From the evidence of 
tomb scenes at Thebes as well as those pieces found amongst the 
foundation blocks of Sesostris Ii's temple at Lahun, Petrie was 
able to deduce how they were used. 

168 The town of Kahun 

Stone working was a skilled and important industry, and using 
simple tools the Egyptian masons were able to cut and work stones 
which ranged from the fairly soft limestone to the hard granites 
and basalt. Probably by the judicious addition of certain alloys 
and by tempering the metals, they were able to produce tools of 
sufficient strength to cope with these materials. 

With its range of stone and metal tools, and the discovery of 
the caster's shop, Kahun is an important site for consideration 
of workmen's tools and there is ample evidence that stone and 
metal tools were used here alongside each other. The Egyptians, 
with their inherent conservatism, evidently retained stone tools 
where they admirably suited their function and could hardly 
be improved. Indeed, the evidence from this town illustrates 
the transition stage between the old and new technologies as 
the Egyptians gradually perfected their metalworking 
techniques. It is apparent that, in some cases, the metal forms 
were strongly influenced by the older stone tools, but also that 
some of the new metallic forms were also now influencing the 
stone forms. 

The stone implements from Kahun provide a unique 
collection, first because they provide the earliest group of 
artefacts where the style of chipping can be identified as typical 
of one period, and secondly, because the tools were known to 
have been used for domestic or trading purposes rather than for 
ceremonial use. 

Flint-working had, of course, been practised in Egypt from 
earliest times. The methods here, as elsewhere, evolved from the 
production of simple hand axes, where a series of flakes were 
detached from a lump of flint by hammering it with a second stone. 
This produced a tool with a cutting edge down one side, a point, 
and a rounded, smooth butt. This tool, which could be used for a 
variety of purposes, such as chopping, cutting, and scraping, 
continued in widespread use in Africa, Europe and parts of 
western Asia for a long time. The flakes cut off in the process of 
producing the hand-axe were at first thrown away, but later they 
too were used as small tools, and were finally individually 
trimmed to make knives and scrapers. 

Thus, there arose the beginnings of a tool-making industry. 
Gradually men evolved the highly skilled activity of striking a 
wide range of specially designed tools from the parent flint. As 
knives, scrapers, chisels and gravers, these in turn were used to 

Everyday life 169 

produce a secondary range of tools and implements from other 
materials, including wood, horn, bone and antler. 

A study of the stone implements found at Kahun was undertaken 
by F.C.J. Spurrell, F.G.S., shortly after their excavation. His 
examination showed that the tools were mostly made from an 
opaque flint which was easier to cut than other varieties; also, it 
was evident that most of the carefully formed flakes had been 
struck off the core by repeated blows. The implements included 
axe and adze blades, saw flints and flints inserted into large sickles, 
as well as knives, scrapers and flakes. 

With the axes, there was evidence that they quickly broke up; 
the bold flaking showed that the craftsmen had great mastery of 
their skill and they experimented with different methods of 
fastening these blades to handles. A hornstone axe was found 
which was probably used for squaring blocks of stone. The blades 
of adzes, which were fitted to wooden handles, were comparatively 
rare but on these, the new cutting edge was carefully trimmed 
and well rounded. No implements were found which could have 
been used for stone-facing nor as saws, because metal tools were 
by now being employed for these purposes. 

Numbers of knife blades were discovered which were all well 
chipped in broad flaking. However, when a knife became blunt, 
it was not re-worked but was used as a disposable item. There 
was one particularly fine example of a flint knife with the 
remains of a handle made of fibre and cord bound around the 
stone, with which two flint flakes were found. Indeed, the 
evidence throughout the town indicates that flakes were widely 
used without any preliminary preparation and that probably 
many of the inhabitants were able to produce the less elaborate 
flint tools. 

Stone also continued to play a part in the production of 
agricultural tools. It has already been shown how flint 'saws' or 
teeth were fixed with cement into bone or wooden sickle handles. 
The sickle resembled an animal's jaw, and painted examples 
similar to the Kahun sickles occur in tombs of the Old Kingdom 
at Giza and Saqqara. In use, the sickle would be brought, tilted 
slightly upwards, towards the reaper as he cut the corn, and the 
Kahun examples, with their sharp teeth, would have produced 
excellent results. 

Although flint and metal tools continued to be used together at 
Kahun during the first period of occupation in the 12th Dynasty, 

170 The town of Kahun 

Petrie claimed that by the beginning of the New Kingdom (the 
18th Dynasty), flint had almost ceased to be used, and bronze had 
replaced copper as the most popular metal. An analysis of the 
metal tools from Kahun was undertaken shortly after excavation 
by Dr Gladstone. He claimed that the tools of the 12th Dynasty 
were of copper, whereas those of the New Kingdom were of bronze. 
He also maintained that the small impurities which existed in the 
copper of earlier times and hardened the metal were accidental 
occurrences in particular ores, rather than a deliberate mixture to 
produce a certain type and strength of metal. 

Metal working posed a number of problems for early peoples. 
Copper ores were found to occur naturally in certain areas, such 
as Eastern Turkey, Syria, the Zagros Mountains, Sinai, the Eastern 
Desert of Egypt and Cyprus. The earliest method of working 
copper, as well as gold, was to hammer the small pieces of metal 
using rounded pebbles. However, the metal became brittle and 
cracked beyond a certain point. Then there came the discovery 
that the stresses built up within a piece of hammered metal could 
be relieved by heating the metal to quite a high temperature. 
The cooled metal could then be hammered to the required shape, 
until it began to harden, when it could be reheated. The 
development of this process, which is known today as annealing, 
marked an important step forward in metalworking techniques 
because it showed that high temperatures could be used to alter 

Another important discovery was that metallic copper, reduced 
from its ores, would become molten, and could subsequently be 
poured into moulds. The idea of using moulds had long been 
established in the production of faience seals and mud-bricks, 
but gradually special moulds were designed to cast metal objects. 
The earliest of these were very simple; a negative was cut into a 
piece of stone, the molten metal was poured into it and then 
hammering and annealing of the metal object would produce the 
required shape. 

Later developments included the introduction of two-piece 
moulds, made of fired clay; these were sometimes first moulded 
around a carved wooden pattern, which was then removed, and 
the two pieces were fired and joined together, to receive the molten 
metal in the hollow centre. Later, an additional clay core was 
included in the mould so that objects such as socketed axes could 
be cast. 

Everyday life 171 

A number of pottery moulds were discovered in the caster's 
shop at Kahun which would have been used for casting such items 
as knives, chisels, and hatchets. One double mould was 
discovered, intended for the production of two knives, one 
straight-backed and the other curved. 

Sometime before 3000 BC, a major discovery was made in metal 
working that marked a significant advance. It was found that a 
harder and more easily worked metal could be produced, by 
adding a small quantity of tin-ore to the copper ores during the 
smelting process; this produced an alloy-bronze. 

Egypt had large quantities of copper but no tinstone, so there 
was a considerable delay before the working of bronze could be 
introduced. Thus, whereas elsewhere bronze became a common 
metal, in Egypt copper continued to be used for a long time for 
most purposes. However, bronze gradually replaced copper and 
became widespread for tools. Experiments with methods of 
alloying and heating the furnace where the metals were smelted 
produced increasingly sophisticated results. 

Bellows (made of skin or skin-covered drums and used in pairs) 
were introduced to replace those of a reed or pipe attached to a 
bag. The new type raised the temperature of the furnace even more 
efficiently to a level not previously reached when the fire was 
blown by mouth. This innovation resulted in larger-scale 
production, and greater quantities of items and larger castings 
became possible. 

A new method of alloying tinstone to copper was now 
developed; tinstone was reduced to metallic tin in the furnace 
before heating it together with copper to form bronze. This 
meant that the relative proportions of the two metals could now 
be closely scrutinised, and the resulting experiments with 
bronze, adding low or high tin contents, meant that different 
materials could be produced for specific purposes. For tools 
and weapons, strength was the quality required above all others, 
and a proportion of about 8 percent tin was retained in 
producing these. 

Gradually, therefore, bronze came to replace both stone tools 
and even those made of copper. However, as the examples from 
Kahun show, copper tools of that period were relatively hard and 
their strength was considerably increased by continual 
hammering. Their importance as a group of objects has warranted 
a modern analysis which is discussed in Chapter 10. 

172 The town of Kahun 

Weights and measures 

When Egypt and Mesopotamia became commercial centres of the 
ancient world, it became necessary for each area to devise its own 
standardised system of weights and measures for business to be 

At an early date, the Egyptians devised methods of surveying 
and land measurement following the annual inundation; their 
knowledge of geometry and mathematics used effectively in the 
construction of the pyramids was also considerable. Their units 
of measurement were based on distances between various points 
on the human body; thus, a cubit was the distance from the point 
of the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, a span was measured 
from the tip of the little finger to the tip of the thumb on an 
outstretched hand, and a palm was usually measured across the 
knuckle of a hand. There was also a finger-width and a foot, 
based on the relevant parts of the body. The cubit, the largest 
unit, was generally subdivided into the other units — the Egyptian 
royal cubit was made up of seven palms and each palm had four 
finger- widths. 

However, from early times, Egypt and Mesopotamia had 
followed different courses in this respect as in many others, and 
although each area used the cubit, they divided it into different 
sections, to which they gave different names. 

Egypt also had a different system of weights from those in use 
elsewhere in the Near East. The trade in metals, carried on by 
the great civilisations, had brought into existence the need for a 
system of weights; these were all based on a theoretical unit — 
the weight of a grain of wheat. In different countries, multiples 
of this grain were used to make larger units, and a shekel could 
vary from 120 grains in one place to over 200 in another. Also, 
larger units which were multiples of the shekel were introduced; 
these, the mina and the talent, were in use throughout much of 
the ancient Near East. 

Egypt, however, had a different system and used metric 
weights. The balances — simple scales with pans — must have 
been fairly sensitive and the weights were made of hard 
polished stones, into which the weight mark was cut. Again, 
Egypt differed from Mesopotamia; the Egyptian weights were 
geometrically shaped blocks of stone with rounded corners and 

Everyday life 173 

edges, whereas the Mesopotamian weights were more 
decorative and were often carved in the form of a duck. Indeed, 
so varied were the systems in the different countries of the 
ancient world that visiting merchants carried appropriate sets 
of weights to meet the requirements of trading in the various 

It is important to understand this background in order to 
appreciate the statement which Petrie made concerning the 
weights and measures he discovered at Kahun. 

Of the measuring sticks which he found, he claimed that 
none was the usual Egyptian cubit. One was a bar of wood of 
the customary form for a cubit; it had one bevelled edge, on 
which the cuts were marked off, dividing it into six palms. 
So, although its length was in exact agreement to the usual 
Egyptian standard, it had only six instead of the customary 
seven palms. Two other measures were found on slips of wood; 
both were very roughly made, and may have been used as 
temporary aids. One was divided into seven palms in the 
Egyptian manner, but the total length was of the same standard 
as the double foot of Asia Minor. The other scale had seven 
and a half spaces. 

Petrie formed the opinion that these rods combined elements 
of the systems of measurement in current use in Egypt and 
elsewhere, and that they were attempts, presumably by foreigners 
resident at Kahun, to imitate the Egyptian system. 

The weights found in the town also added support to his theory, 
for he maintained that there was a significant number of foreign 
weights amongst the group and that, of the total, not one sixth 
were Egyptian; even those, he claimed, were made of soft materials 
not normally used for Egyptian weights. 

It will now be necessary to consider the evidence which 
supports Petrie's theory of a substantial foreign community at 
Kahun. However, the general appearance of the town, despite 
any cosmopolitan occupation, must have conformed fairly 
closely to other settlements throughout Egypt. From the 
distribution of the objects within the town and, as far as we can 
assess, from the incomplete records, it seems that areas of Kahun 
were probably allocated to specific trades and crafts, rather like 
the divisions of eastern cities in medieval and later times. 

There may have been some permanent shops, like the caster's, 

174 The town of Kahun 

but probably many of the commercial transactions would have 
been carried out at a regular market. In more recent times, Winifred 
Blackman found that at Lahun the shops stocked a few provisions 
but that most were bought at the weekly market. During this stay, 
she was accommodated in a house built of sun-dried mud-brick 
(fashioned in a mould like those of ancient Kahun) with ceilings 
made of ribs of palm branches. On the flat roof of the house there 
were small mud granaries, and bundles of dried stalks, as well as 
flat cakes of cow dung, used for fuel. Her experiences in the 
Fayoum during three winters showed her that some techniques 
had survived from antiquity. The making of bricks, baskets and 
pottery were still major occupations of the area. At harvest time, 
the corn was cut with sickles very similar to those discovered at 
Kahun, before it was taken to the threshing floor, and winnowed 
in the open air. She also noted another ancient survival — that the 
wages of the labourers were paid in grain 








1 fLe/fj Portrait of Dr Jesse Haworth, patron of Egyptology in Manchester, who supported 
Petrie's excavations at Illahun, Kahun and Gurob. In recognition of his generosity to the 
Manchester Museum, and of his position as one of the first patrons of scientific excavation 
in Egypt, the University of Manchester conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of 
Laws in 1913. In return for his continuing support of Petrie's excavations, the Manchester 
Museum received artefacts from sites throughout Egypt, which form the nucleus of this 
important collection. 

2 (Right) Portrait of Sir William Flinders Petrie, about the time when he became Edwards 
Professor of Egyptology at University College London. Miss Amelia Edwards, one of the 
co-founders of the Egypt Exploration Fund (later Society), bequeathed a sum of money in 
her Will to found the first Chair of Egyptology in Britain, and expressed a wish that Petrie 
should be appointed to this post, which he subsequently held for forty years. It was through 
Miss Edwards's intervention that Petrie and Haworth first met and Haworth was persuaded 
to provide financial support for the excavations. 

3 General view of the first Egyptology gallery at the Manchester Museum, University of 
Manchester in 1913. By 1911, the University considered a scheme to extend the existing 
Museum to provide suitable accommodation for Jesse Haworth's continuing donations of 
Egyptian antiquities. The Manchester Egyptian Association opened a fund for subscriptions, 
but Haworth's generosity enabled the scheme to be realised, and The Jesse Haworth Building 
was opened in 1912. The artefacts from Kahun and Gurob were displayed to the public for 
the first time. In 1927 a further extension, incorporating a Second Egyptology gallery, was 
opened. This too was the result of Haworth's generosity. 

"• -4 Vim 

T urn _ _J»(,.^ 

4 (Above) Photograph taken at Kahun, showing Flinders Petrie [centre), his wife, Hilda, 
and C.T.Campion. The photograph (in the Manchester Museum archive) was accompanied 
by a letter from Campion to Miss W.C.Crompton, Curator of Manchester's Egyptian 
collection, dated 18 March 1914. Writing from Lahun, Campion says that Petrie had just 
finished the enclosure immediately around the pyramid, and that seven gangs had started 
to clear the North Court, where the eight Mastaba tombs were situated. He continues, 'On 
Monday week, four of us went over to see the place [i.e. Kahun], about a twenty minute 
walk from here, and I took two photographs...' 

5 (Below) Artist's reconstruction drawing of the town of Kahun. Like the other workmen's 
towns, Kahun was enclosed by a thick mud-brick wall which kept the inhabitants separate 
from others living in the area. The town was built to adjoin a temple in which King 
Sesostris II was worshipped; both the town and the temple were known as 'Hetep-Sesostris'. 
The town was laid out on a regular plan and arranged in two areas — separated by an 
internal wall. The western part [a) contained the blocks of workmen's houses, while the 
Acropolis [b) had a palace. Large villas [c) were situated in the eastern area. 

6 Part of a group of objects found in a house in the workmen's western quarter at Kahun. 
The mirror has a handle of hard brown wood, carved with the head of the goddess Hathor 
on either side. The torque (bottom) is the only example so far discovered in Egypt which 
was obviously worn in the owner's lifetime. The few other examples found in Egypt have 
come from burial sites. However, the torque, although so rare in Egypt, was a distinctive 
ornament which was worn for over five centuries in areas of Western Asia. 

7 A selection of stone and faience jars used to hold perfumed ointments and oils, and 
kohl. The three alabaster jars at the back were found in the house in the workmen's quarter, 
together with the mirror and torque described in (6). The small, dumpy stone vases with 
broad, flat neck-pieces fixed on separately were containers for kohl, the substance used by 
the Egyptians to outline their eyes. The tube-shaped kohl-pots familiar at other sites were 
not in fashion at Kahun. 

hh.a-. UiM 

8 (Above) Jewellery was widely worn at Kahun, and this shows a selection of beads. Here 
also is a pair of ivory clappers, found with a wooden figurine in the chamber of a house; 
in the next room was a dancer's mask made of canvas. The wooden figurine was of a 
dancer in a costume with a head-dress or mask representing the god Bes, and a tail. The 
clappers and the figurine were discovered buried in a hole in the floor of the chamber. 

9 (Below) A dancer's mask found in the same house as a pair of ivory clappers and wooden 
figurine. It is made of three layers of canvas stuck together and moulded to form the face 
of the household god Bes. Painted black, details such as arches over and under the eyes, 
spots on the cheeks and red lips are also shown. Some of the surface stucco has been 
knocked off during use, and the canvas base has been painted black to camouflage the 
damage. Holes are made at the eyes and nostrils to allow the wearer to see and breathe. 

10 (Left) One of the curious stone stands 
used in the houses at Kahun. These were 
probably used to support dishes holding 
bread and other food which was offered 
to the gods in a regular household ritual. 
This example, carefully cut out in 
pierced work, shows two primitive 
figures of men, standing back to back. 
The strange design of these stands 
suggests a purely local artistic 
development which may indicate either 
that these worshippers at Kahun were 
foreign with different religious customs, 
or that native Egyptians here simply 
introduced a different style. 

1 1 (Above) Basket-making and rush-work were important industries at Kahun. An example 
of a well-made fibre brush, in almost perfect condition, was discovered (left). On the right 
is a plaited rush sandal, an alternative form of foot-wear to the leather shoes and sandals 
also found at Kahun. The rush basket (centre) was found in the corner of a house chamber, 
close to the floor. It was obviously used by a workman to transport his tools, for it was 
found to contain a copper bowl, chisels and hatchets. 

12 (Above) A great variety of pottery was made at Kahun for domestic purposes. Incised dishes 
are a representative style for this period and site. They were perhaps used to serve food, since 
one dish has a raised centre. On the inside of the dishes the incised patterns include designs 
derived from basketwork, or incorporating animals and, as in this example, fish and lotus flowers. 
Usually oval in shape, they were of fairly coarse red pottery with a rough surface, which probably 
indicates that they were not used for cooking, nor for serving wet or juicy food. 

13 (Below) An oblong wooden stool cut from a single block of wood, and roughly finished. It is 
possible to imagine the owner sitting outside his house in the evening, the day's work over, in 
the way people relax today in villages throughout Egypt. Stone seats were also found at Kahun, 
each cut from one block of stone, with a section cut away underneath to create two legs and the 
seat slightly hollowed out to provide more comfort. Parts of carved wooden chairs were also 
discovered, which indicated that some of the inhabitants possessed furniture of a finer quality. 

14 (Above) Craftsmen's tools discovered at Kahun provide one of the most important aspects 
of the site. They indicate the type of crafts carried out in such a community and also illustrate 
the development of technology in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom. Skilled carpenters 
and woodworkers were obviously well established in the town, and in this modern artist's 
reconstruction, a carpenter is shown making the wooden stool found at Kahun. Carpenters 
used a range of tools, many with bronze blades fastened to wooden handles by means of 
leather thongs. Wooden mallets of the type shown here were found at the site. 

15 (Below) Small wooden boxes were used at Kahun to contain cosmetics, jewellery and 
trinkets. One shown here held powdered haematite and juniper berries for colouring the 
face, and a bulbous-ended kohl-stick. The sections of each box were glued together, and 
the lid fitted into the box in such a way that the lid could not be raised at one end. At the 
other end, there was a knob on the lid that could be fastened to a knob on the box; these 
knobs were tied together with string (still visible) and sealed. 

16 Larger wooden boxes, probably used originally to store clothing and other possessions, 
were discovered underneath the floors of many houses at Kahun. They contained babies, 
sometimes buried two or three to a box, and aged only a few months at death. Protective 
beads and amulets adorning some of the babies were inscribed with the names of kings 
and thus fixed the date of these burials. Interrment of bodies at domestic sites was not an 
Egyptian custom, although such practices occurred in other areas of the ancient Near East, 
particularly at Mesopotamian sites. 

17 Before the discovery of firesticks at Kahun, no fire-making tools from ancient Egypt 
had ever been found, and the method of fire-production used by the Egyptians was 
unknown. Essentially a bow-drill, the firestick has four parts. The user would exert heavy 
pressure on a conical stone drill-cap, which pushed down a wooden firestick. This was 
thus pressed into the wooden matrix hole underneath. The simultaneous action of pressing 
down the firestick and pulling the drill-bow caused sparks to ignite at the matrix. 

18 (Above) Builders' tools were found at Kahun. Petrie discovered a wooden mud-brick 
mould (top), into which alluvial mud mixed with water was packed. Although tomb scenes 
elsewhere illustrated the method, this was the first tangible evidence of the industry ever 
found at a site. Once constructed, a building was plastered with a layer of mud. The 
plasterers' float (right) found at Kahun is similar to ones used today; here some plaster 
still remains where the ancient workman forgot to clean it. On the left are two wooden 
butterfly cramps which were used for stonework. 

19 (Below) Metal and stone tools continued to be used side-by-side at Kahun, and illustrate 
the transitional stage between old and new technologies. Inherently conservative, the 
Egyptians retained stone tools at Kahun where they particularly suited their function, and 
the later metal forms were often influenced by the designs of the stone tools. Here, there is 
a selection of stone, copper and bronze knives from the site. The flint knife, with the 
handle of fibre and cord, is a good example of Egyptian flint-working which had been 
practised since earliest times. 

20 A major discovery at Kahun was the caster's shop, where Petrie found metal tools and 
five earthenware moulds for bronze-casting. The mould (left) used to take molten metal 
was for an axe; the mould was lined with a coat of fine ash and clay to produce a fine 
surface. The metal hatchet (right) was found in a workman's basket in his house, ready to 
be taken to his place of work. The obvious break across the body in antiquity is curious 
since there is no indication that sufficient strain had been applied. 

21 Carpenters and woodworkers at Kahun used a range of tools. A selection of these can 
be seen here. On the left is a wooden adze handle; this tool was used for rough-shaping 
the wood. A chisel (centre) with a wooden handle and a metal tip was used to produce 
carving and mortices. A wooden socket drill (right) was worked by means of a bow, and 
used to make small holes. In carpentry, as well as other crafts, metal and flint tools were 
used alongside each other at Kahun. 

22 (Above) Agricultural tools found in the houses at Kahun are similar to those depicted 
in tomb scenes elsewhere in Egypt. A simple wooden hoe (centre) and rake (top right) 
were used to clear the ground before ploughing commenced. The hoes from Kahun had 
either broad and flat, or thick and narrow wooden blades; the rakes were roughly cut from 
a single piece of wood and were much worn. Sickles (bottom right) were used for reaping; 
the grain was later winnowed, being tossed with wooden scoops (top left), before it was 
finally collected off the threshing floor using wooden grain scoops (bottom left). 

23 (Below) The sickles used in Egypt to reap the crop were based on the shape of an 
animal's jawbone. Sometimes an animal jawbone was utilised, but otherwise the body of 
the sickle was made of wood. Flints were either set into the teeth sockets of the jawbone 
to form a cutting edge, or in the wooden sickle, a line of short flint blades was set into a 
groove and held in place with cement made of mud and glue. A detail of a wooden sickle, 
with the flint saws held in position, is shown here. 

24 Ball games were played by children in the streets of Kahun. Wooden balls (top left) 
were found, as well as a leather ball (top centre) with six gores, one of which had obviously 
been re-stitched in antiquity. Wooden whip-tops were discovered {top right), and also tip- 
cats (bottom row). These wooden sticks, each pointed at both ends, are known in other 
parts of the world. Kahun has provided evidence of a wealth of toys and games which 
were quite obviously used and enjoyed by their owners. 

25 (Above) Clay figurines were modelled perhaps by the children themselves, as toys. This selection, 
all made from Nile mud, includes an ape with beads inserted to represent eyes (top left), a pig (top 
right), an unidentifiable animal (bottom left), a crocodile (centre bottom), and a model boat with 
two seats (one of which is pierced with a hole to take a mast) and the remains of a rudder (bottom 
right). In addition to these, there was a minor doll-making industry at Kahun, which produced 
wooden dolls with pegged, movable limbs, as well as dolls of glazed pottery. 

26 (Below) Kahun was a centre for fishing, fowling and hunting activities. However, in the gardens 
and vineyards, it was also necessary to frighten away the birds, a purpose for which this sling was 
probably used. Beautifully woven, it has long cords, one of which ends in a loop, to retain it on the 
finger. It was found with the three small sling-stones, which were probably flung from the sling 
simultaneously, to produce a scatter effect. This maybe the earliest example of a sling yet discovered. 

27 Although Kahun had its own pottery-making industry, some of the pottery discovered 
at the site, because of its style, was claimed by Petrie to be of foreign origin. He believed 
that some of these pieces may have been introduced into the town by an immigrant section 
of the community. Recent investigations of the Kahun pottery, using advanced scientific 
methods, have indicated that the visually 'foreign' pots are indeed made from clay which 
was derived from different sources. Examples of three of these 'foreign styles' are shown 

28 (Above) Scene from the tomb of the Vizier Rekhmire at Thebes (18th Dynasty), showing 
the process of mud-brick manufacture. Bricks were made from alluvial mud, mixed with 
water and packed into wooden moulds which could be lifted to allow the moulded brick 
to fall to the ground. Laid out thus in long rows, the bricks dried in the sun. Kiln-baked 
bricks were only widely introduced throughout Egypt in the Roman period, for, in the dry 
climate, sun-dried bricks survive for many years and indeed, are used in buildings in 
parts of Egypt today. 

29 (Below) The remains of the village of Deir el-Medina at Thebes, where the community 
of workmen lived who were engaged in the building and decoration of the royal tombs in 
the Valley of the Kings. The village was inhabited by these men and their families from the 
18th to the 21st Dynasties. Like Kahun, it occupied an isolated position which afforded 
easy surveillance, and the original town was enclosed inside a thick mud-brick wall. The 
houses were quite cramped and dark, and followed a basic pattern, although variations in 
decoration reflected differences in status and wealth. 


& - te 

v 4 


30 (Above) The pyramid of Lahun was built for King Sesostns II and introduced several 
new features in pyramid design. The architect moved the entrance outside this pyramid, 
to provide greater security for the burial. However, when it was located by Petrie, he 
discovered that the burial had been plundered in antiquity. The core of this pyramid was 
cut from a mass of solid rock, and the framework of retaining walls was built of mud- 
brick. The original limestone casing of the pyramid has long since been removed, so that 
today only the brick structure remains. 

31 (Above) Reproductions of the wig ornaments and crown of Princess Sit-Hathor-Iunut 
from Lahun. Petrie found four shaft tombs at Lahun, to the south of the pyramid, and the 
most easterly of these contained the famous royal treasure. This gold crown, with fifteen 
rosettes, a uraeus, representations of feathers and a pair of streamers seemed to be a 
ceremonial head-dress, to be worn over a wig. It introduced a new design, and had obviously 
been worn during the owner's lifetime. It is an outstanding example of the craftsmen's 
skills in the 12th Dynasty. (Originals in the Cairo Museum and the Metropolitan Museum 
of Fine Art, N.Y.) 

32 Model of a weavers' workshop from the Theban tomb of Mekhet-Re, a Twelfth Dynasty 
noble (c.2000 B.C.). The Egyptian Museum, Cairo. 

All the workers shown are women. Top: two weavers kneel at a horizontal loom, to the 
right of which a heddle-jack can be seen; one of them touches a long, curved beater-in. 
Centre and Bottom Right: seated and standing women pot-spinning; the figures holding 
two spindles are demonstrating their great skill in using this difficult method. Left: two 
workers are preparing warps by winding finished thread round pegs set into the wall. 


The Foreign Population at 

From his excavations at Kahun, Petrie formed the opinion that a 
certain element of the population there had come from outside 
Egypt. However, before considering the Kahun evidence, it is 
necessary briefly to outline some facets of Egypt's relationships 
with her northern neighbours. 

The theory has been advanced that Aegean elements evident in 
some areas of ancient Egyptian civilisation may have come 
indirectly through Syria, and that the city of Byblos on the Syrian 
coast probably played an important intermediary role in a trading 
network. Egypt had long had close connections with Byblos, since 
this port controlled and exported the 'Cedars of Lebanon' which 
were in much demand in Egypt. This argument suggests that 
Byblos acted as a link between Egypt and Crete, for it is known 
that Byblos and Crete had commercial and technical links, and it 
is therefore necessary to consider Egypt's early relations with both 
Asia and the Aegean. 

There has been much discussion of how and when the earliest 
links were established between Egypt and the Aegean. Some 
scholars have suggested that, from Neolithic times, there was 
always a close relationship and that this was based not just on 
trading requirements but that the two peoples had a 'community 
of blood'. This theory argues that Egyptian and Libyan cultures 
had strongly influenced Crete since the beginning of Minoan 
civilisation and this, it claims, could be explained in terms of an 
emigration of people from North Africa into Crete. The idea 
remains conjectural, however, and some archaeological elements 
cannot be explained by this theory. 


176 The town of Kahun 

There are indications of contact between Egypt and Crete in 
the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom Periods. Sir Arthur Evans's 
excavations at Crete showed that the Minoan (prehistoric Cretan) 
civilisation was nearly, if not quite, as old as that of Egypt. This 
Cretan or 'Minoan' civilisation, able to develop unaffected by 
foreign incursions, gradually spread northwards and absorbed 
the culture of the Aegean islands and possibly that of the 
Peloponnese, before extending over central mainland Greece. 
Here, where it becomes the prehistoric culture of the mainland, 
it is known by the term 'Mycenaean'. Evans divided the 
'prehistory' of Crete into three main periods — Early Minoan (EM 
I, EM II and EM III), Middle Minoan (MM I, MM II and MM III) 
and Late Minoan (LM I, LMII and LM III). He based the dates of 
the Cretan chronology on Egyptian synchronisms, but the 
sequence of the periods was based on the archaeological evidence 
from the Cretan excavations. The Early Minoan Period 
synchronised with the Old Kingdom and earlier periods in Egypt. 
Middle Minoan (when the Minoan culture had not yet reached 
mainland Greece) correlated with the 11th to 17th Dynasties in 
Egypt, and this synchronism was confirmed by the discovery of 
polychrome pottery in a cave at Kamares in Crete which indicated 
that Crete, or the Aegean Islands, were the sources for similar 
pottery (known today as 'Kamares Ware') which was discovered 
in the 12th/13th Dynasty deposits at Kahun and other Egyptian 
towns. Finally, the Late Minoan Period corresponded to the 18th/ 
19th Dynasties in Egypt, before catastrophe brought Crete and 
the Minoan/Mycenaean civilisation to an end. 

Various elements suggested links between Egypt and Crete in 
the Old Kingdom period, but the most convincing evidence is 
provided by the remnants of stone vases of Egyptian style which 
were found at Knossos. Some, made of liparite from the Lipari 
Islands, were of the Middle Minoan I period, and thus were of a 
slightly later date than the Egyptian Old Kingdom. However, their 
carinated form is typical of the 3rd and 4th Dynasty styles in 
Egypt, and therefore, they may either have been imported from 
Egypt earlier on and kept as treasured heirlooms, or they may 
represent a Cretan imitation of a form which was fashionable in 
Egypt at an earlier date. Other examples of Egyptian syenite or 
black porphyry vases appear to have been imported early on and 
handed down in Cretan families before being buried as treasured 
possessions. The evidence suggests that some Egyptian vases, 

The foreign population 177 

carved from hard stone, were introduced into Crete, but also that 
the Cretans produced their own vessels which, although carved 
in the Egyptian style, were of soft stone. Therefore, although 
there was undeniable Egyptian influence, it is difficult to 
establish when direct contact actually occurred, and one scholar 
(Vercoutter) has suggested that the presence of Egyptian stone 
vases in Crete may not be due to trading contacts. He suggests 
instead that, during the troubled period at the end of the Old 
Kingdom, foreign vandals pillaged the old Egyptian cemeteries 
and removed the stone vases, which finally reached Crete, where 
they then occur, Predynastic and Old Kingdom types together, 
buried in the same contexts. By the Egyptian First Intermediate 
Period, Cretan artists, inspired by the plundered vessels, then 
sought to produce imitations in soft stone. 

Other evidence for association includes the button seals which 
were found contemporaneously in Crete and Egypt, and Early 
Minoan II/III seals in Crete bear a close resemblance to the Egyptian 
seals of the 4th to 6th Dynasties. There has also been consideration 
of the term H3w-nbwt, the hieroglyphic name found in Old 
Kingdom texts. This term, later applied in Egyptian texts to the 
peoples of the Aegean, may indeed indicate Old Kingdom 
connections between Egypt and Crete, but it has also been 
suggested that, since the term may not have had the same exact 
meaning throughout two and a half thousand years of Egyptian 
history, it need not necessarily indicate an Old Kingdom 
connection with the Aegean islands. Alternative theories have 
identified the H3w-nbwt of the Old Kingdom texts either as the 
non-Egyptian population on the maritime border of the Egyptian 
Delta, or as a general and vague term for the peoples of the coast 
of Asia. 

However, during the Middle Kingdom (Dynasties 12 and 13) 
and the Middle Minoan Period, it is evident that connections 
existed between Egypt and Crete and that there was an interchange 
of ideas and products between the two peoples. One of the most 
important discoveries relating to this period is that of Middle 
Minoan pottery found at various Egyptian sites, and this has posed 
some major problems for archaeologists, for Egyptologists use the 
term 'Minoan' pottery in the Middle Kingdom context to refer not 
only to vessels which appear to be genuine imports, but also to 
those which, although they resemble the Minoan style, can be 
seen by visual inspection almost certainly to have been made in 

178 The town of Kahun 

Egypt from locaf clay. However, only fabric analysis, which is 
described in Chapter 9, can finally determine the original home 
of this pottery. 

Archaeologists have never found great quantities of Minoan 
pottery in Egypt; also, apart from pieces from Abydos and Qubbet 
el-Hawa, the cases and sherds were all discovered within the 
stretch of the Nile between Lisht and Lahun. However, the 
apparent distribution of this evidence maybe misleading, since 
relatively few living sites have been excavated in Egypt, where 
this type of pottery seems mainly to have been found. All the 
known 'Minoan' vases and sherds are from excavated sites, and 
apart from the Abydos and Kahun finds, the material is not 

Sherds were found at Kahun, Haraga and Lisht, but so far it has 
been impossible to determine if these all date to one specific 
chronological Minoan period or whether they extend over a longer 
time. The pottery found at Lisht, a site in the Fayoum selected as 
the burial place of the first king of the 12th Dynasty, Amenemmes 
I, may have come either from the tombs or the village. 

Haraga was an important site which lay about two to three 
kilometres from Lahun. It included the cemeteries on the edge of 
the desert, which were perhaps used for the burial of the 
inhabitants of the important Middle Kingdom town of Rehone 
(Lahun), and these provide the largest, well-documented cemetery 
series for the Middle Kingdom. Additionally, it is possible that 
the site may have incorporated the refuse dumps and perhaps 
even a settlement of the workers who were involved in the various 
stages of funeral preparations. The site was excavated by Engelbach 
in 1913/14, and he reported that he found there 'about twenty 
pieces of Cretan Kamares ware, similar to those found by Petrie, 
twenty five years before, at Kahun'. The total collection of Minoan 
ware from the site emerges as the largest concentration of such 
pottery yet to have been found in Egypt. 

The excavated sites in the vicinity of the Lahun pyramid of 
Sesostris II probably represent a single major building 
development which grew up at the place which the king had 
chosen for his burial. There was a significant Middle Kingdom 
growth in the area, with the arrival of administrators, court 
officials, and religious personnel, as well as the workmen, and 
this increase in size and quality of occupation was reflected in 
the cemeteries. In Kemp and Merrillees's study, they consider that 

The foreign population 179 

the Minoan pottery from Haraga is probably comparable with the 
Kahun Minoan ware, in terms of use. Sherds from light buff storage 
jars which were found at Haraga were described as 'natron-jars' 
by Engelbach, and some examples of these sherds, now in the 
Manchester Museum collection, bear 'natron' labels. It is argued 
that the material evidence from Haraga — large numbers of vessels 
used for the transport and storage of natron, as well as refuse 
material such as natron, resin, sawdust and cloth — indicates that 
this was probably the place where mummification was carried 
out, near to the cemeteries. The men engaged in this work and in 
associated occupations may have lived at the site, and therefore, 
the Minoan sherds found here, as at Kahun, would suggest that 
imported wares of this type were used by the members of a 
workmen's community. 

However, it was the Minoan sherds from Kahun, excavated by 
Petrie in the 1880s, which first aroused interest. Petrie included 
these amongst a whole group of material which he described as 
'foreign', and more specifically as 'Greek'. However, not all these 
'Minoan' sherds were true imports, and some have been identified 
stylistically as local Egyptian imitations of Minoan vessels. Other 
sherds, although they have polychrome decoration, may have 
come from vessels which were of purely Egyptian style and 
manufacture. However, true Minoan sherds from Kahun can be 
identified as Classical Kamares ware, with patterns incorporating 
swirls and spirals. Petrie presented this collection to the Greek 
and Roman Department of the British Museum where they were 
subsequently published. 

The Kahun sherds were received into the British Museum 
collection and accessioned in three groups, in November 1890, 
February 1912, and September 1914, and this has enabled Kemp 
to assign the pottery to specific seasons of excavation. The material 
accessioned in the first two groups appears to have been presented 
to the Museum by Petrie's sponsor, Jesse Haworth. Petrie's journals 
and other sources do not provide complete information on the 
find-spots of the sherds. However, on additional evidence, it 
appears that all except two sherds from the second season were 
discovered in a large rubbish dump at the north-west corner of 
the site. The archaeological facts indicate that the Minoan sherds 
and the imitations at Kahun were not luxury items which were 
used exclusively as fine imported ware by the upper levels of the 
town's society, for it appears that none of it was discovered in the 

180 The town of Kahun 

vicinity of the north row of mansions. Rather, it seems to have 
been domestic ware used by some of the ordinary people of the 
town. However, Kemp cautions that such 'evidence' should be 
carefully interpreted, since the scanty representation of Minoan 
pottery in the wealthier areas may simply be due to the fact that 
their rubbish was more completely and effectively cleared away 
in antiquity. 

Again, caution must be exercised in establishing the exact date 
of this pottery. Petrie claimed that the Egyptian pottery found with 
the Minoan sherds was entirely of a 12th Dynasty date, and he 
thus established a similar date for the foreign ware. However, the 
stratification in the rooms, filled with loose sandy material, was 
probably not straightforward, and it is unlikely that correlation 
between the depth of a find-spot and the age of an object can be 
accurately established at Kahun. 

Petrie's claim that all the Kahun Minoan pottery could be 
attributed to the time when Sesostris IPs pyramid was being built 
cannot therefore be substantiated. These pieces, as well as other 
types of object from the site, need not necessarily be attributed to 
the early years of occupation when the workforce was obviously 
at full strength, because the total evidence points to a much longer 
occupation by a community not simply composed of pyramid 
workmen. The Minoan material at Kahun can therefore only be 
attributed to the general history of occupation. Nevertheless, if 
we consider the evidence of Aegean archaeology, the Minoan 
material at Kahun could have belonged only to the Middle 
Kingdom Period and not to the 18th Dynasty occupation. 

Another archaeologist, Von Bissing, claimed that only a brief 
connection had existed between Egypt and the Aegean and that it 
was during the 18th Dynasty, and not the 12th Dynasty, that the 
Minoan pottery had come to Kahun. He also tried to show that 
the occupation of the site had been continuous, and that a group 
of Egyptian pottery from there — wavy-necked jars — was of the 18th 

However, Garstang's discovery of Tomb 416 at Abydos and of a 
fine 'Kamares' pot in a 12th Dynasty tomb provided substantial 
evidence against Von Bissing's theory that the Kahun Minoan 
pottery was later than the 12th Dynasty. His discoveries at Beni 
Hasan also showed that the Egyptian wavy-necked jars were to be 
identified with the 12th Dynasty. 

The Abydos tomb, from its other artefacts, could be clearly 

The foreign population 181 

identified as Middle Kingdom, dating either to the 12th or 13th 
Dynasties. It provided a dated, funerary setting for the Minoan 
pottery which could then also be applied to the Minoan ware found 
in less well-defined contexts in the domestic rubbish heaps at 
Kahun and Haraga. At Qubbet el-Hawa — another tomb context — 
another vase was found which may be an imitation of a Minoan 
one. However, here, re-use of the tombs meant that this find could 
not be closely dated. 

In general terms, therefore, Middle Minoan pottery was found 
at a few sites in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom. These were 
mainly situated in the Fayoum area, and the advent of this pottery 
there probably dates to a time between the reign of King Sesostris 
II and the end of the 13th Dynasty. However, at this stage, 
although we can say that the pottery entered Egypt and was 
imitated there between c. 1890 and 1670/1650 BC, it is not 
possible yet to assign it to specific historical divisions of Minoan 

Kamares ware would appear to have two major sources in 
Crete — the palaces at Knossos and Phaistos. However, the route 
and method of entry for this pottery into Egypt has given occasion 
for much discussion, and several possible routes have been 
suggested. These include the journey from Crete to a Delta port 
and then on to Memphis or another centre by an inland river route; 
from Crete to Cyrene and thence along the North African coast to 
the Nile Delta; or from Crete to the Syrian coast, sometimes passing 
via Cyprus, and following the coasts of Anatolia and Palestine to 
the Nile Delta. This latter route has a certain amount of 
archaeological support, including the fact that some Syrian coastal 
sites, such as Byblos, showed evidence of cross-cultural influences. 
Evidence for a direct Egyptian-Crete trade is lacking at present; 
although it would appear that at certain periods their royal courts 
exchanged presents, there has as yet been no major discovery of 
groups of imported material in either Crete or Egypt which are 
not also found in Syria. The Syrian ports appear to have played 
an important role receiving imports and then exporting them, and 
no convincing alternative to the Syrian role as trade intermediary 
can yet be proved. 

Apart from the pottery, the only other evidently Minoan import 
at Kahun was a stone pyxis lid. However, throughout this period, 
there was a general awareness of each other's artistic styles, 
which found some degree of expression in shapes and patterns, 

182 The town of Kahun 

but, despite this interchange, the influence was rather one-sided 
and there is less evidence of Egyptian material found in Crete 
during the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period. 
This includes a small statue of an Egyptian, Abnub, son of Seker- 
user, and some twenty scarabs as well as an alabaster lid bearing 
the name of a Hyksos king of Egypt, named Khyan, discovered 
by Evans at Knossos. The Egyptians may also have introduced 
the Cretans to the idea of writing with pen and ink on papyrus, 
instead of their usual custom of inscribing on clay with a stylus 
for two clay cups, inscribed in ink in the Egyptian manner, were 
found in Crete. Possibly incision on clay was used for everyday 
purposes, and papyrus was kept for important documents, but 
most of these texts, if they existed, would in any case have 

In architectural and artistic terms, the Middle Minoan and 
Middle Kingdom Periods possibly saw a constant exchange of 
ideas and techniques. It has been suggested that some 
architectural connections existed during this period, and that 
these were perhaps evidenced in buildings such as the Labyrinth 
built by Amenemmes III at Hawara, which later visitors compared 
to the Labyrinth of Minos at Knossos. However, in other 
instances, such as the columns used in buildings in Egypt and 
Crete, there were few similarities. Also, the resemblances 
between the wall-paintings seen in the two countries are 
superficial, for the materials at hand were very different. The 
Cretans never carved their walls before painting; poor stone 
supplies forced them to invent other decorative forms, and they 
sometimes substituted modelling the plaster ground in relief for 
the wall-carvings executed by the Egyptians. The Cretans also 
painted straight on to the plaster while it was still wet, unlike 
the Egyptian artists. Again, because of the scarcity of suitable 
stone, they never embarked on large stone statuary, but perfected 
the skill of carving small objects such as seals. Their 
metalworking techniques showed an independent style, and 
although the forms of some Egyptian pottery were copied, the 
Minoans introduced their own lively and increasingly 
extravagant and naturalistic decorative designs. 

By the New Kingdom, which corresponded to the Late Minoan 
Period, the cross-fertilisation of ideas was perhaps less marked, 
although there has been much discussion of the possible 'Minoan' 
influence on Egyptian tomb-art of the period. Again, scholars have 

The foreign population 183 

discussed the possible effect of the naturalism of Cretan art on 
the artistic representations which occurred in Egypt during the 
period of King Akhenaten's reign, towards the end of the 18th 
Dynasty. Alabaster vases continued to be exported to Greece, and 
Minoan and Mycenaean pottery was imported to Egypt until the 
twelfth century, when the links with the Aegean ceased. 

However, not only do we have the material evidence of this 
continuing connection, but in some New Kingdom tombs it is 
probable that the Aegean islanders themselves are depicted on 
the walls. A fresco from the Tomb of Senmut shows Minoans 
bringing tribute to Egypt and similar events occur in the scenes in 
the tomb of the Vizier Rekhmire. These tribute-bearers, described 
as the men of Keftiu and of the 'Islands in the Midst of the Sea', 
carry gold and silver objects for the Egyptian Treasury. 

There has been much discussion regarding the true origin of 
Keftiu and the Keftians. Were they from Crete or were they from 
other parts of Asia? Many people accept that they were in fact 
representatives sent to Egypt from Minoan Crete, and that the 
people of the Islands in the Midst of the Sea' were envoys sent 
by the other islands under Crete's control. They were probably 
not just tribute-bearers, but ambassadors sent with gifts to the 
Egyptian court, and the Egyptians would have reciprocated with 
other gifts. The envoys and retainers probably remained as a 
small group at the Egyptian court for some months. Kemp has 
posed the question whether, although these people first appear 
in Egyptian scenes and inscriptions in the New Kingdom, they 
first came to Egypt during the Middle Kingdom. This would 
coincide with the period when most Minoan pottery imports 
are found in Egypt. However, Kemp cautions that the presence 
of quantities of this pottery in Egypt is not sufficient evidence to 
indicate that the Keftians were in Egypt at the same date, for the 
pottery may have been imported through quite a different route 
and via a middleman, whereas Egyptian and Cretan envoys would 
have made a direct exchange. Nevertheless, it is strange that the 
New Kingdom, the period when the Cretan visits are best 
documented in Egypt, was the time when the quantity of Minoan 
vases found in Egypt falls below that of imported Mycenaean, 
Cypriot and Syrian wares. Another major difference is that, 
whereas the Middle Minoan pottery mainly occurs in domestic 
sites, in the New Kingdom the foreign wares occur as treasured 
possessions in the tombs. 

184 The town of Kahun 

The Minoans disappear from the scene some time towards the 
end of the fifteenth century BC, overwhelmed by a major 
catastrophe, which would have coincided with the later years of 
Egypt's 18th Dynasty. Relations between Egypt and the Greek 
mainland and Aegean islands then reopened and continued until 
the late New Kingdom. The subsequent upheavals of Egypt's Third 
Intermediate Period and the generally unstable political conditions 
in the Mediterranean and Near East finally brought relations 
between the two peoples to a close, until a new phase re-opened 
between Egypt and Classical Greece. 

It is already clear that connections between Egypt and Crete 
involved other areas of the ancient world. The towns of Syria were 
particularly important and major discoveries underline contacts 
between these areas of the ancient world. In 1921-2, the 
archaeologist Montet, in his first excavation campaign at Byblos 
in Syria, discovered a spread of broken offerings above the ruins 
of a building dedicated to the goddess known as the Lady of Byblos, 
which was in use during the third millennium BC. Amongst these 
were fragments of stone vases with the names, written in 
hieroglyphs, of most of the Old Kingdom kings, culminating with 
that of Pepy I. In his second campaign, Montet discovered a 
magnificent jar which originally contained nearly a thousand 
objects. This, known today as the 'Montet Jar', was a closed deposit 
and formed the basis of a detailed study. 

The jar, coil-built and of red ware, was locally produced, and 
could be dated by its stylistic features to the time between the 
Early Bronze and Middle Bronze periods. One opinion held that 
it was contemporary with the Middle Kingdom in Egypt. None of 
the objects inside the jar was inscribed with a royal name, but the 
seals and scarabs could be classified, compared with Egyptian 
parallels, and dated accordingly. The seals — there was no other 
closed deposit from Egypt or elsewhere — could only be judged 
on style and Egyptian examples. They were mostly made of steatite, 
and included scarabs, seals and cylinder seals. 

The rings were all of a type that was known from the Egyptian 
sites of Dahshur and Lahun. Pendants and figurines included 
baboons that were similar to examples of the First Intermediate 
Period found in Egypt. Figures resembling the Egyptian god, 
Harpocrates, were also discovered and these probably dated to 
the time between the end of the Old Kingdom and the First 
Intermediate Period. 

The foreign population 185 

Carnelian was used for most of the collection of beads, and the 
forms followed the four traditional shapes of Egypt — cylinders, 
barrels, rings and spheroids. An Old Kingdom bead collar was 
one of the best dated examples found in the jar, and generally, the 
beads dated from c. 2130-2040 BC. 

There were also over forty torques and pins which were made 
locally at Byblos. These torques, perhaps introduced into Syria 
by an intrusive ethnic element, have already been discussed in 
connection with the rare example found in a workman's house at 
Kahun. Metal torques or representations of them on statuettes have 
been found at many sites from Ras Shamra to Tell el' Ajjul, as 
well as the few isolated examples which have come to light in 
Middle Kingdom contexts in Egypt. 

Some jewellery, especially the metalwork, shows evidence of a 
possible Mesopotamian origin, and the Montet Jar contains a 
miscellaneous collection of objects — both ornaments and utensils. 
Some Mesopotamian elements were present but essentially the 
contents were acquired mainly from Egypt. They probably arrived 
in Byblos c. 2130-2040 BC, either through trade, barter, booty or 
as personal souvenirs. These dates would correspond to the First 
Intermediate Period in Egypt, and the discovery is yet another 
indication that relations existed between Egypt and Syria, as well 
as Syria and Mesopotamia, in this period. 

Another important find which illustrates a strong association 
between Egypt, Asia and the Aegean is the El-Tod treasure. This 
was discovered in 1936, buried in the stone foundations of a temple 
at El-Tod in Egypt which, the archaeologists believed, was built 
by King Sesostris I of the Middle Kingdom. 

The treasure was contained within four copper chests, two of 
which were inscribed with the name of a later 12th Dynasty king, 
Amenemmes II. The contents of the chests were all of foreign 
origin, but they reflected a wide diversity of traditions also seen 
in objects known to come from Crete, Syria and Mesopotamia. 
There has been some difference of opinion expressed regarding 
the date of the items which show Minoan influence and some 
scholars attribute them to Middle Minoan II, while others place 
them in Middle Minoan IB. Although it is generally accepted that 
the caskets were deposited in Egypt some time during the Middle 
Kingdom, even this has been challenged and a later date suggested. 
It would seem that the treasure was not originally packed inside 
the Egyptian caskets, because ink inscriptions in Hieratic have 

186 The town of Kahun 

been added to some items. However, even if the imported treasure 
was packed into the caskets in Egypt, it can be argued that the 
treasure and the chests need not necessarily be of the same date, 
since chests from a previous era could have been used. Therefore, 
although the treasure may have been packed and buried during 
the Middle Kingdom (thus indicating an association between the 
sources from which the various contents were derived), no firm 
conclusion can be drawn regarding either the date of the treasure 
or of its burial. 

However, generally, there is sufficient evidence of contact 
between Egypt, Asia and the Aegean during the Middle Kingdom 
to set the background for the situation at Kahun. 

The theory has been suggested, and received support from a 
number of scholars, that foreigners, either from Syria or Crete or 
elsewhere, were resident workers at the Egyptian sites where the 
Minoan pottery was found. Petrie was the first to advance this 
theory and his reasons for doing so should now be considered. 

Petrie's excavations at Kahun revealed a diversity of objects 
which persuaded him that foreign workers were resident there 
during the Middle Kingdom occupation. First, there was the 
evidence of a number of types of pottery which he classified as 
'foreign' and of the pot marks which he believed were a link in 
the chain of the development of the alphabet; secondly, the weights 
and measures which he found at the site included a high 
proportion of non-Egyptian pieces which he believed had been 
introduced by the foreigners; and there were also isolated instances 
of 'foreign' items such as the torque found in one of the houses. 
Additionally, there were some religious practices which did not 
seem to be entirely Egyptian in origin. 

Considering the pottery first, Petrie classified one group as 
Aegean' but intended this term to cover not only the Greek islands 
but also the coast of the Peloponnese and Asia Minor. He described 
three major groups as distinctively 'foreign', including the black 
ware with bright yellow, red and white patterns which was quite 
different from any known Egyptian pottery, and the distinctive 
wave pattern of Aegean ware, also unknown on Egyptian examples. 
These pieces were apparently found in rubbish heaps which Petrie 
maintained were entirely of the 12th Dynasty. He argued that, from 
their position, the heaps would not have been accumulated by 
later residents; he claimed also that the Middle Kingdom residents, 
once the pyramid had been completed and the houses of the 

The foreign population 187 

workmen deserted, heaped up their rubbish in the houses. The 
people who had lived at Kahun when the town was fully occupied 
(during the building of the pyramid) would have used the extra- 
mural rubbish heaps and the 'foreign' pottery, found in and under 
these heaps, must therefore, Petrie argued, belong to the time of 
Sesostris II. 

Petrie also discovered other foreign ware. One group of black 
pottery was found, the pieces being uncovered in various places 
in the town. Most of the fragments of these vases were decorated 
with a chevron pattern, with alternate spaces filled with rows of 
dots, or a double chevron blank, with dots on each side of it. 
Petrie identified this with pottery found by Naville in deep, 
undisturbed burials of the 12th and 13th Dynasties at Khatanah 
near Fakus. These were found with other objects of the Middle 
Kingdom, including 12th Dynasty scarabs, and Petrie argued that 
the black pottery found at Kahun, which he indicated had a 
marked similarity to Italian black ware, should also probably be 
dated to the 12th and 13th Dynasties. He believed that the Kahun 
black pottery shared a common origin with the Italian black ware, 
although the latter continued in use until later times. Finally, he 
classified some other pottery, which was decorated with non- 
Egyptian styles, as 'foreign'. He claimed, as negative evidence to 
prove the Middle Kingdom date for the Kahun 'foreign' wares, 
that none of these types had ever been found in sites of later 
periods and that no pottery of the later periods had ever been 
uncovered in the Kahun rubbish heaps which he claimed were 
12th Dynasty. 

At the time of his discoveries, Greek archaeologists objected to 
such an early date for this pottery. However, he maintained that 
the Kahun 'Aegean' pottery could not follow the Mycenaean 
pottery styles and that they did not fall into place in the historical 
development of pottery from the Mycenaean downwards. Yet they 
were certainly from Greece or Italy, and Petrie suggested that the 
pottery was the product of the earliest Libyo-Greek civilisation of 
the Aegean and Italy, c. 2500 BG 

This last statement was made in the light of insufficient 
evidence, since in Petrie's day, the state of early Aegean civilisation 
was unknown. However, his claim that this pottery had nothing 
to do with the historic civilisation of Greece was correct, and some 
of it has subsequently been identified either as Minoan, or as 
Egyptian imitations of that type. It has also been shown that other 

188 The town of Kahun 

types of foreign pottery were present at Kahun, including Syro- 
Palestinian pottery and El-Lisht juglets of the late Middle 
Kingdom. El-Lisht ware juglets have a highly burnished black or 
brown slipped surface and, although many were produced locally 
in Egypt, and were therefore an imitation, the original examples 
were Syro-Palestinian. These juglets occur in Western Asia mainly 
in areas (such as the Syrian coast) where other evidence also 
indicates links with Egypt. At least nineteen pieces of El-Lisht 
ware juglets were found at various sites throughout the town, and 
these probably entered Kahun in the 13th Dynasty. Kahun also 
produced a number of other vessels and sherds which, in recent 
times, have been identified as foreign. 

Therefore, although Petrie's assessment of 'foreign' wares is not 
entirely accurate, since he included not only examples that were 
made abroad and imported into Egypt but also Egyptian imitations 
and even locally made wares that merely had unconventional 
features, it is undeniable that the inhabitants used foreign wares 
which were derived from the Aegean islands or from Syria- 
Palestine. Whether these wares entered Egypt through trade or 
were brought in by the foreign immigrants at Kahun is still 
uncertain. It is also unclear whether the Minoan wares came 
directly to Egypt, or via the Syrian trading ports. The answer to 
this question would help to clarify whether Kahun's foreign 
residents came both from Syria and from the Aegean, or only from 

Other material finds Petrie made at Kahun which he 
considered to be imports included small vessels of bluish marble, 
which he claimed originated in the Mediterranean or Aegean 
areas. He also stated that the weights and measures used at Kahun 
included a high proportion of non-Egyptian examples. Not only 
were many of the standards foreign, but the materials of which 
the weights were made were not the customary ones used by 

However, it was the pot marks — signs scratched on the pottery, 
in some cases by the potter before baking and in others by the 
owners — that Petrie regarded as the most important evidence of 
foreign influence at Kahun. One mark was found on a large jar 
sunk in the floor of a chamber and used to store corn or water. 
Above this, tools and a papyrus of the Middle Kingdom were 
uncovered. Therefore, Petrie claimed that the pot and its mark 
dated to the period when the house was in use — that is, the 12th 

The foreign population 189 

Dynasty. Other evidence — potter's marks on jars in the temple 
foundation of Sesostris II and the style and manufacturing methods 
of this pottery — strongly suggested a 12th Dynasty or possibly early 
13th Dynasty date for the pot marks. 

Petrie considered that these marks presented evidence of a time 
of trial and error at Kahun, when various alphabets were used 
concurrently, before the clear evolution of the final alphabet 
emerged. He argued that the Phoenician and Cypriot alphabets 
(the forerunners of the Greek and Western alphabets), which, 
according to one theory, were derived from Egyptian Hieratic of 
the 12th Dynasty, were in a state of evolution and development 
before 2000 BC, and that, at Kahun, with its other evidence of a 
cosmopolitan population, there was ample scope for 
experimentation with written forms. 

What, then, was Petrie's hypothesis? He suggested that during 
the troubled times of the 11th Dynasty, the Egyptians had fought 
with the Aegean peoples and become acquainted with 
Mediterranean races. The 'foreigners' may first have been brought 
to Egypt as captives to work on public projects, but the discovery 
of weights at Kahun indicate that a commercial association also 
existed with their homeland. Uneducated to the Egyptian system 
of writing, the foreigners learnt the use of the Egyptian masons' 
marks, with whom they lived. The masons' marks had been 
derived from hieroglyphs and many of the pot marks resembled 
them. The marks were then used for the sounds attached to them, 
and eventually, words were written down in new signs. 
Commercial concerns then carried these signs from Egypt into 
the Mediterranean areas. Thus, the system, founded on the 
workmen's signs, developed into a simple mode of writing which 
became the starting point for the true alphabetic system. 

We must now consider other evidence which, during the years 
since Petrie first excavated at Kahun, has further revealed some 
idea of the extent of relations between Egypt and Asia during the 
Middle Kingdom. 

A famous papyrus (the Brooklyn Papyrus) was left to the 
Brooklyn Museum in New York in the Will of the Egyptologist, 
Charles E.Wilbour. The legal and administrative contents of this 
document enhance our knowledge of the period between the end 
of the 12th Dynasty and the Hyksos period (c. 1786-1670 BC). 

On the verso of this papyrus, a woman named Senebtisi attempts 
to establish her legal rights to the possession of ninetyfive servants. 

190 The town of Kahun 

A list of them is included which states their titles, names and 
surnames, and their occupations. Of the seventy-seven entries 
which are presented well enough to enable the individual's 
nationality to be read, twenty-nine appear to be Egyptian while 
forty-eight are 'Asiatics'. Of the Asiatics, seven were men, 
employed as domestics and cooks, thirty were women who were 
shopkeepers or involved in weaving and making clothes, and nine 
were infants. 

It is evident that the foreigners were associated with the 
Egyptians in work, and that a further attempt at integration was 
made, by giving the foreign children and some of the adults 
Egyptian names. Although the foreign names were not precise 
enough to enable the exact homeland of these Asiatics to be 
identified, it can be said that they were from a 'Semitic group of 
the north west'. It is possible that they changed their names 
because the Egyptians found them difficult to pronounce, although 
it may have been part of an Egyptian integration policy. 

The Brooklyn Papyrus is important here because it shows that 
one household employed a large proportion of Asiatics and this 
household was situated in Upper Egypt and not in the Delta; 
therefore, it is apparent that Asiatic servants were by now 
disseminated throughout the community. 

There is also other evidence of Asiatics working in households 
at this time, although in smaller numbers. Mention of them is 
made throughout many texts. On stelae, they appear in domestic 
service, usually listed after the members of the family; sometimes, 
only one Asiatic occurs, but in other instances they are present in 
groups of two, three, four or six. They have Egyptian names, 
clothing and hairstyles, but are usually distinguished as Asiatics 
by the title c 3m (feminine: c 3mt). Some came to hold important 
and trusted positions in Egyptian households, and, since they were 
sometimes engaged in the funerary cult on these stelae, it is 
probable that they followed Egyptian religious practices. 

At Kahun, there is significant literary evidence of the presence 
of Asiatics. In one of the legal documents mention is made of 
Asiatic household servants. Others are listed as dancers in the 
festival celebrations in the temple of Sesostris II, and in another 
document we learn of two Asiatics employed as porters in the 
same temple. It is also evident that there were Asiatics in some of 
the military or police units, since there was mention of an officer 
in charge of Asiatic troops. Kahun also had a 'Scribe of the 

The foreign population 191 

Asiatics'. It is apparent that the Asiatics were present in the town 
in some numbers, and this may have reflected the situation 
elsewhere in Egypt. It can be stated that these people were loosely 
classed by Egyptians as 'Asiatics', although their exact homeland 
in Syria or Palestine cannot be determined, and that they held a 
variety of posts in public institutions and private houses, and were 
apparently given some fairly responsible positions. 

However, the reason for their presence in Egypt remains unclear, 
but various suggestions have been made. There is historical 
evidence to indicate that Egypt had troubled relations with her 
northern neighbours in the First Intermediate Period and possibly 
at the beginning of the 12th Dynasty. Although there are no 
inscriptions from the Middle Kingdom (as there are from the New 
Kingdom) relating that prisoners-of-war were brought from Syria 
and Palestine to Egypt, it is possible that Egypt pursued similar 
policies in the earlier period. 

During the First Intermediate Period, Egypt was plagued with 
incursions of Beduin, who infiltrated the Delta. It is probable that 
such conflicts did not cease at the beginning of the 12th Dynasty, 
and indeed, the first king, Amenemmes I, is reputed to have built 
a line of fortresses — the 'Wall of the Ruler' — to keep the Asiatics 
out of the Delta. This is known from allusions in the two Egyptian 
texts, the 'Prophecy of Neferty' and the 'Story of Sinuhe'. A stela 
in the Louvre, belonging to a General Nesoumontou, also states 
that in Year 24 of the king's reign, he made war on the Asiatics 
and destroyed fortresses, although the site of this is not stated. 

Classical sources (Herodotus, The Histories, Bk II, 102-3, 106, 
107-8) mention that King 'Sesostris' was victorious against the 
Orient and that he captured many prisoners who were brought to 
Egypt to work on building projects. 

The Asiatics, or a proportion of them, may indeed have entered 
Egypt at this period as prisoners-of-war. However, some probably 
arrived in various other ways, for it is obvious from the literary 
and material evidence that there were also peaceful contacts 
between Egypt and her northern neighbours. In the Story of Sinuhe, 
during the early 12th Dynasty, Sinuhe found other Egyptian 
residents in Palestine when he went there; he met men who 
travelled between Egypt and Syria, and generally, the impression 
is of cordial relations between the two areas. The imported objects 
of Egyptian or Syro-Palestinian manufacture in both areas also 
suggests friendly association, and in Sinai, there was collaboration 

192 The town of Kahun 

on mining projects between Egyptian and local workmen. The 
general trends in Egypt from the beginning of the 12th Dynasty 
suggests that some of the Asiatics came as traders, and that these 
or other travellers introduced some new styles and techniques to 
the Egyptians. 

Apart from military or commercial reasons, some of the 
immigrants may have come, as they did later, to seek work in 
Egypt. To do so, they would have sacrificed their nomadic freedom, 
in exchange for regular employment and food. 

Animals, as well as humans, entered Egypt in the 12th Dynasty. 
A tomb scene at Meir shows cattle entering Egypt from Asia and a 
similar scene occurs in a tomb at Bersheh, belonging to a 
commander who lived under Sesostris III. He had lived at Megiddo 
in Palestine, where his statue was found, and the Egyptians 
probably controlled this area and exploited its resources 
subsequent to Sesostris Ill's campaign to Sichem in Palestine. The 
cattle in the scene may represent booty brought back as plunder 
from this campaign. 

Thus, the scattered documentation gives no clear answer as to 
how or why the Asiatics came to Egypt in the Middle Kingdom. 
By the New Kingdom, the sources are more specific, and at Gurob, 
the Fayoum town which replaced Kahun in the New Kingdom as 
the centre of the area, Petrie again claimed that there was a 
substantial foreign population. He based this on the evidence of 
some of the pottery and the pot marks, on the weights, and on the 
discovery of bodies with light hair, as well as on his belief that 
some burial customs there were non-Egyptian. Although some of 
his arguments have since been refuted — for example, the foreign 
pottery may be attributed to trade rather than to the immigrants — 
there is nevertheless firm literary evidence that Asiatic slaves, 
women and children were at Gurob and that some received 
instruction in the workshops. However, the foreigners here may 
well have been in the minority, and seem to have merged 
successfully with the Egyptian residents. 

No firm conclusions can therefore be drawn about the Middle 
Kingdom foreign population at Kahun — why they came, who 
they were, and how they were employed. It is not clear whether 
the pottery of Syro-Palestinian and Aegean origin arrived at 
Kahun through trade or was brought in by the foreigners. It can 
only be stated that the population at Kahun provided a ready 
market for exotic pottery which was met either by imported 

The foreign population 193 

goods or local imitations, and that the Minoan wares do not 
appear to be luxury items, reserved for the tombs or the houses 
of the wealthy, but were apparently purely domestic wares for 
which the humbler inhabitants had a preference. Similar pottery 
from Haraga (if it was thrown out from the embalmers' 
workshops) and at Lisht (where it may have come from a living 
rather than cemetery location) would suggest that the Minoan 
ware was particularly associated with the poorer social 
elements. The question must therefore be asked, although no 
accurate reply can be given: did these foreign workmen bring 
the pottery with them, use it at Kahun and elsewhere, and then 
imitate it in their new homeland? 

Again, it is unclear whether the Minoan and Syro-Palestinian 
pottery came from two direct provenances — perhaps Byblos and 
Crete — to Egypt, or whether the Minoan ware was brought into 
Egypt indirectly via Syria. Again, we can ask whether the 
immigrants themselves came from one or more homelands? The 
other evidence — literary and material — indicates an 'Asiatic' 
presence, but there may have been Minoans at Kahun as well. 

We can further question the occupations which the foreign 
residents held at Kahun. Literary evidence indicates that their 
range of employment was fairly wide — in temple service, in private 
households, and in the army or police. Although there is no direct 
evidence, some of the artisans and craftsmen may also have been 
brought from elsewhere. The wife of one workman possessed a 
torque — rarely found in Egypt — and there is subtle evidence in 
the royal jewellery of the Middle Kingdom that the artisans were 
influenced directly or indirectly by Asiatic styles. It would be 
reasonable to assume that there were a significant number of 
foreign workers in the town, who required administrative 
supervision by a 'special scribe' allocated to them, although it is 
impossible to determine their numbers in relation to their Egyptian 

It is also difficult to assess how completely they assimilated 
Egyptian ways. Such evidence as we have regarding the religious 
customs of the town indicate that there may be some differences 
at Kahun, although the Asiatics were employed in the temple cult. 
The scanty evidence excavated from the surrounding cemeteries 
provides insufficient skeletal and other material to allow a 
complete study to be made either of the inhabitants' burial 
customs, or their ethnic origins and physical illnesses. 

194 The town of Kahun 

A further question remains to be answered — why did the 
inhabitants of this first occupation at Kahun leave their homes? 
Before looking at possible answers to this, it is necessary first to 
consider the evidence for the date of the conclusion of that period 
of occupation. 


Last Years at Kahun 

We know that Kahun was built to house the pyramid workmen, 
artisans and officials connected with the construction of Sesostris 
IFs pyramid complex at Lahun. It is also clear that although it 
may have been during the early years that the greatest activity 
occurred, when the population of the town was at its height, 
nevertheless the community did not fade away once the pyramid 
was finished. Indeed, there is every indication that Kahun 
continued to flourish throughout the 12th Dynasty and into the 
13th Dynasty, and was a place of much greater significance than 
that afforded to a mere pyramid workmen's residence town. The 
cult of the founder, Sesostris II, was still observed in his funerary 
temple at Kahun long after his death, and the various trades and 
industries which had grown up at Kahun in its heyday were still 
pursued. It is evident that the completion of the king's pyramid 
was not the reason why Kahun's inhabitants eventually deserted 
the town, abandoning their tools and other possessions in the 
shops and houses. 

However, it is difficult to assess the extent to which the life 
of this community continued to flourish during the later years 
of the 12th Dynasty and the 13th Dynasty. Evidence which 
includes written material, pottery, scarabs and seal impressions 
indicates that it remained a centre of some importance 
throughout this period. In the papyri, the kings of the 12th 
Dynasty are well attested, but there is also reference to early 
kings of the 13th Dynasty — Sekhemre Khutawy and his 
successor, Sekhemkare. 

The historical evidence of the papyri is also generally supported 
by the information derived from detailed studies of the important 


196 The town of Kahun 

group of clay seal impressions, cylinder seals and scarabs which 
were found at Kahun. Together, they assist in establishing the 
length of occupation of the site. 

The clay sealings were used to mark ownership of boxes, vases 
and bags, and on the underside of some of these Petrie found the 
impressions of the vessel and cord bound around it, to which the 
seal had been attached. Grains of resin were found with others, 
indicating that a number of these packages contained resin. The 
sealings were picked up by small boys from the modern village of 
Lahun whom Petrie employed to hunt over the dust and the earth 
after the workmen had cleared a room. Sometimes, these children 
discovered small objects which had been overlooked in the 
preliminary excavation. 

Nearly all of the sealings were found in two or three rooms of a 
house which was situated on the road leading up to the Acropolis. 
Such was their concentration in this one area that Petrie suggested 
that the house where they were found may have been occupied 
by the staff of the Governor's house and possibly acted as an office 
for parcels and provisions sent for the governor. The sealings not 
only have a useful role in determining the town's chronology, but 
also provide names and titles of some of the officials; we find 
'The citizen, Sebek-user...' on one, and 'Inspector of the Prince's 
geese' on another, while a third refers to the 'Keeper of the Office 
of Agriculture, lyab'. 

As well as the clay seal impressions, cylinder seals and scarabs 
were also discovered at Kahun. The royal names of the 12th 
Dynasty rulers which occur on the sealings and cylinder seals 
include those of Sesostris I, II, III and Amenemmes III. The name 
of King Amenemmes II, however, is missing. There appear to be 
no scarabs which can be attributed to Amenemmes I, and only 
one surviving impression bears the name of the town's founder, 
Sesostris II. However, cylinder seals bear the name of Sesostris 
III, although he is not mentioned in the papyri. A scarab was also 
found, inscribed with the name of a 13th Dynasty king, 
Khasekhemre Neferhotep I. 

There is a notable absence of scarabs and sealings attributable 
to the Hyksos kings. These were the rulers whose infiltration into 
Egypt finally swept away the native kings of the 13th Dynasty. 
The design elements which distinguish scarabs of the Hyksos 
period are missing from the Kahun examples. A wooden stamp 
bearing the name of Apepi (Apophis) was found at the site but, 

Last years at Kahun 197 

although this was the name of a Hyksos ruler, this example may 
refer not to the king, but to a private individual who lived during 
the 12th or 13th Dynasties when the name was already in use. 
After the hiatus of the Hyksos period, the royal names at Kahun 
then resume with the New Kingdom rulers — Amenophis I, 
Tuthmosis I, II and III, and Amenophis II, III, IV. This provides 
support for Petrie's theory that the town of Kahun was partially 
re-occupied in the 18th Dynasty. 

In general, it is difficult to determine whether most of the 
artefacts discovered at Kahun date to the earlier years of the 12th 
Dynasty, or to the 13th Dynasty. However, it seems that the town 
continued to prosper without interruption throughout the whole 
of this period, and the local situation would have reflected the 
general conditions throughout Egypt at this time. 

The writings of the ancient historian, Manetho, described the 
13th Dynasty as a time when 'Sixty kings of Diospolis... reigned 
for 453 years', and, at one time, some scholars accepted that these 
brief and numerous reigns indicated a period of chaos at the end 
of the 12th Dynasty, with a time of difficult transition between 
the 12th and 13th Dynasties. 

However, the currently held view is that the change-over of 
dynasties was in fact peaceful, and that the first king of the 13th 
Dynasty may have been related by ties of blood or marriage to the 
previous rulers. The brief reigns of the 13th Dynasty may be 
explained in terms of a series of 'puppet' kings, perhaps dominated 
by a powerful line of viziers, who were possibly selected by 
election to rule for a limited period. 

There was obviously no marked political upheaval in Egypt, 
and for more than a hundred years, the central government 
continued to wield power. Egypt's prestige abroad remained high, 
the royal building programmes flourished at home, and the kings 
still ruled the land from Memphis and used the Fayoum town of 
It-towy as a royal residence. 

However, eventually the weakness of the king's position, and 
the rapid succession of rulers undoubtedly lessened Egypt's power 
and prosperity at home and abroad, and the lack of a strong ruler, 
as always in Egypt's history, brought the country to a state where 
outside intervention became possible. 

Their exact place of origin and the extent of their overlordship 
of Egypt is still uncertain, but during the 15th and 16th Dynasties 
a group of foreign rulers whom we know as the 'Hyksos' took over 

198 The town of Kahun 

control in Egypt. This 'invasion', now believed to have been a 
gradual and progressive infiltration rather than a rapid military 
conquest, probably represented a change of rulers rather than a 
massive influx of a new ethnic group. However, it has been 
suggested that the earlier introduction of perhaps substantial 
Asiatic elements into Egyptian households and other occupations 
throughout the Middle Kingdom may have facilitated this 
development. The gradual awareness of Asiatic cultures and the 
intermarriages which took place between some native-born 
Egyptians and the Asiatic immigrants would have created a 
climate, it is argued, in which the indigenous population were 
less resistant to the Hyksos conquest. 

Whatever the background to the conquest, by c. 1674 BC the 
Hyksos king, Salitis, who founded the 15th Dynasty, had occupied 
Memphis and It-towy. The Middle Kingdom fell and the last rulers 
of the 13th Dynasty were probably reduced to the status of local 
rulers, as vassals of the Hyksos kings. 

Our knowledge of the Hyksos kings and their rule rests largely 
on historical sources which are based on the propaganda of the 
period which immediately followed. A new line of native rulers 
emerged at Thebes and founded the 17th Dynasty, c. 1650 BC. 
These warrior princes drove the Hyksos from the land, and their 
descendants, the triumphant pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, 
established Egypt as the major power of the ancient Near East. 
These kings justified and advanced their claims to rule Egypt using 
a variety of methods, including an effective propaganda which 
emphasised the miseries which the Egyptians had previously 
suffered under the Hyksos. It is difficult to establish the truth in 
this matter, although other evidence indicates that the population 
may not have suffered under severe Hyksos domination and in 
some areas at least, their arrival in Egypt may not have been too 

Nevertheless, towards the end of the 13th Dynasty, the country 
would certainly have passed through troubled times, and this is 
reflected in the Fayoum area. The royal support which the area 
had enjoyed from the reign of Sesostris II onwards now seemed to 
fade away and from the start of Hyksos rule, there is a noticeable 
decline in the prosperity of the whole region around Lahun. 
Indeed, there is a suggestion, albeit based on a single piece of 
evidence, that there may have been a limited immigration of desert 
peoples into the area. 

Last years at Kahun 199 

A single sherd of so-called 'pan-grave' pottery was discovered 
at Kahun by Petrie. This fragment from a hand-made bowl formed 
part of a series assembled by Petrie, which bore the potmarks that 
he believed belonged to an early form of the alphabetic script. 
The sherd was presented to the Department of Greek and Roman 
Antiquities at the British Museum by Jesse Haworth in 1890, and 
was later transferred to the Department of Egyptian Antiquities. 
Subsequent research has indicated that it may have come from 
one of the smaller houses in the western sector at Kahun. 

The sherd belongs to the culture for which Petrie created the 
term 'pan-grave'. The evidence for this 'culture' included certain 
distinctive features, such as the shape of the graves, and some 
elements of the grave goods, particularly the pottery with its 
incised decoration. The 'pan-grave' burials, discovered by Petrie 
at a number of cemeteries, led him to theorise that the culture had 
been introduced to Egypt between the 12th and 18th Dynasties, 
by immigrants from a desert region. 

The 'pan-grave' pottery was discovered not only in graves, but 
also in some towns and Egyptian military fortresses in Nubia. In 
his study of the Kahun sherd, BJ.Kemp reaches the conclusion 
that it is not possible to state that there was a pan-grave phase at 
Kahun on a single piece of evidence and that, although desert 
immigrants may have been present in the area, the sherd may 
simply represent an isolated example of a trade in these goods 
which was carried on in the town. 

Nevertheless, it is obvious that, whatever the local conditions 
may have been, there was a marked decline in royal support and 
patronage for the Fayoum towns during the Hyksos period. The 
archaeological evidence — the absence of scarabs and seal 
impressions bearing the characteristic Hyksos designs — indicates 
that Kahun had now ceased to be a major centre of activity. 

There are different opinions of how this first period of 
occupation at Kahun drew to a close. It can be argued that declining 
local economic conditions, and perhaps even foreign infiltration 
and harassment, finally drove the residents of Kahun from their 
homes. The quantity, range and type of articles of everyday use 
which were left behind in the houses may indeed suggest that the 
departure was sudden and unpremeditated. 

Another interpretation of the evidence is that there was no total 
evacuation of the town, but that the population declined and 
dwindled until, by the New Kingdom, only a token occupation of 
some of the houses remained. 

200 The town of Kahun 

Petrie advanced the theory that, following the abandonment of 
the Middle Kingdom town, a second phase of occupation occurred 
during the 18th Dynasty, probably mainly in the reign of 
Amenophis III. This occupation, he argued, was sparse, with only 
some of the rooms in the western section (the workmen's quarter) 
now being occupied. Here, in a house at the east end of the fourth 
street, he discovered a remarkable set of bronze tools which were 
dated by the discovery of an associated papyrus to the reign of 
Amenophis III. Other items found in the area included pottery, 
other tools, and scarabs dating to the reign of the same king. Apart 
from the discoveries in the western sector, he claimed that only 
one other object of the 18th Dynasty was found elsewhere, apart 
from a few burials in the eastern part of the town. 

One of the major discoveries of this New Kingdom occupation, 
however, was that of the tomb of Maket. This 'tomb', situated in 
one of the rock-cut cellars under the old houses in Kahun, had 
obviously been cleared to take the burials of one family. It held 
twelve coffins and two boxes for baby burials and each coffin 
contained as many as five or six bodies. Petrie described how the 
bodies and their wrappings had all been reduced to a black powder, 
but he carefully recorded the position of all the coffins and the 
minor objects. He believed that the tomb had been used from the 
mid-18th Dynasty to the 20th Dynasty. The seventh coffin 
contained the body of 'Maket', the 'Lady of the House', and her 
jewellery; this find, providing the name of the owner, was 
particularly important and, therefore, the group is usually referred 
to as the 'Tomb of Maket'. The artefacts from this group were 
presented to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. 

The extent of the New Kingdom phase of occupation at Kahun 
remains uncertain. Despite Petrie's theory of limited residence 
there, other scholars have maintained that, because of the large 
number of 18th Dynasty funerary deposits uncovered in the town 
and the quantity of New Kingdom pottery which turned up in the 
houses, the occupation at this period may have been more 

Although, by the 18th Dynasty, the position which Kahun held 
as the pre-eminent town of the Fayoum dyke had passed to Gurob, 
it has been suggested that in the New Kingdom, Kahun may once 
again have housed workmen who, this time, were engaged in 
dismantling the Temple of Sesostris II at Kahun, and using the 
temple as a quarry for other royal building projects in the area. 

Last years at Kahun 201 

A small community may even have continued to live at Kahun 
into the 19th Dynasty, although, by this period, both Kahun and 
Gurob had entered a state of final disintegration and a new town 
was soon to take their place as the main centre of the Fayoum. 

This new town was probably situated in the vicinity of the 
modern village of Lahun and may have been founded so that the 
residents could attend to the regulation of water-works which were 
established in the area by King Osorkon I. The town was occupied 
at some period between the 20th and 26th Dynasties, although 
Petrie was unable to determine the exact dates for this. The 
inhabitants of the town cleared out the old rock-cut tomb shafts 
which lay at the base of the Lahun pyramid, and re-used them for 
burials. Petrie's excavations here showed that the tombs were 
probably continuously used between the 22nd and 25th Dynasties. 

The final chapter in Kahun's history occurred during the 
Roman period, when the long-deserted town was dug for 
limestone. The discovery of pottery and coins attest to this last 
phase, before the site, which had once bustled with all the noise 
and activity of an important religious and commercial centre, 
was finally left to the sand and the jackals. It was to remain 
deserted and hidden, until some two thousand years later, when 
William Flinders Petrie once again revealed the streets and 
houses of Kahun, and gave the modern world a glimpse of how 
this ancient community had lived. 



In order to examine the material from Kahun which is now housed 
in the Manchester Museum, a programme of investigation was set 
up which has so far involved the use of a number of 
multidisciplinary techniques. One aim of this project was to 
develop the concept, initially employed on the Manchester 
Egyptian Mummy Research Project, of subjecting certain museum 
collections to modern analytical techniques so that new 
information could be gained. More specifically, it is hoped that 
the Kahun Project will provide new insight into the development 
of various technologies at a particular period of history, and will 
also supply answers to questions relating to the provenance of 
pottery and metals found at Kahun. 

The present account of this work includes the first descriptions 
of these studies. It is planned both to extend the scope of the 
current investigations and also to widen the range of techniques 
so that important studies such as the analysis and identification 
of the wood used in the artefacts at Kahun may eventually be 
incorporated in the project. 


Analysis of Egyptian Pottery 

By Dr G.W.A.Newton 

Pottery has been produced in Egypt for more than 7,000 years and 
the raw materials and techniques have hardly changed. This 
reflects the outlook of ancient Egyptians who showed a strict 
adherence to religious traditions. There have been many studies 
of the fabrics and designs of the pottery, both archaeological and 
scientific. A former Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge 
defined archaeology thus: 'It is, I conceive, the science of teaching 
history by its monuments of whatever character those monuments 

In Egypt monuments, such as temples and pyramids, dominate 
the scene. However, the beauty of a Badarian pot, made between 
5000 and 4500 BC, cannot fail to impress. These pots are delicate, 
reducing to about 1 mm thick at the rim in some cases, and 
burnished in red and black. It is clear that the technology was 
well developed early on, and there is evidence that it deteriorated 
at later periods. 

The development of some technological aspects of pottery- 
making is reflected in tomb-paintings. The series of pictures shows 
the development of the potter's wheel. In (a) the pot is hand turned 
on a block but it is unlikely that sufficient rotational energy could 
be generated to 'throw' the pot as in (b). This second picture is 
from the region of Niuserre, 2416-2392 BC (5th Dynasty), and 
probably marks the origin of the potter's wheel in Egypt. An 18th 
Dynasty (1575-1308 BC) painting (c) shows a further development 
where two people are involved, one to rotate the wheel leaving 
the potter's two hands free to work the clay. The technological 
development of the kick wheel (d) (taken from a temple relief 


208 The investigation 

dating from the reign of Darius, 518-485 BC) allowed one person 
to rotate the wheel and also have two hands free to work the clay. 

For any civilisation changes in style, technique, shape and 
patterns reflect changes and developments in that society. In this 
respect pottery is very important. In our own society we are aware 
of changes in types and patterns of tableware and ovenware: for 
example the introduction of pyrex or the changes in shape of a 
ketchup bottle. This type of change was as true in ancient societies 
as it is today. In ancient Egypt the most abundant pottery was 
undecorated and used for cooking, storage, eating and drinking. 
Painted pottery, very important in some societies (e.g. Hellenistic 
Greece), was in Egypt rather restricted to a few periods and 

Petrie was one of the first to realise the importance of shape 
and style and used this to establish a sequence dating technique 
of pottery in Predynastic Egypt which is still valid to the present 
with only minor modifications. 

At Naqada and a site known to the Greeks as Diospolis Parva, 
Petrie discovered thousands of pots. Every grave contained some 
pottery. From this he built up a corpus of 700 kinds of pot in nine 
principal groups. One group from Naqada, a wavy-handled type, 
was particularly distinctive and was influenced by jars imported 
from southern Palestine. Petrie placed the shapes in a sequence 
which corresponded with a line of development from a broad- 
shouldered jar with functional handles like the imports, to 
cylindrical jars with just a wavy line. Pots of other kinds found in 
association with those with wavy handles could be tied into that 
sequence. Gradually all Predynastic pottery was organised in this 
way establishing a great series. This involved considerable trial 
and error and the study of other material such as stone vessels 
and slate palettes. 

TABLE Sequence dates of Predynastic Egyptian pottery 


Tasian 20 

Badarian 21-29 7400 5000-4500 

Amratian 30-37 

Gerzean 38-60 5500 4500-3200 

Semainean 61-78 

First Dynasty 78-82 4000 3200 

Analysis of Egyptian pottery 209 

Eventually 62 sequence dates (SD) from 20 to 82 were 
established as shown in the Table. 

This sequence has been modified slightly: the Tasian would 
not be separated from Badarian, post-Badarian would be grouped 
into Naqada I and II, and the dates are later. Otherwise the 
essentials of the sequence are those derived by Petrie. The 
similarity between imported wavy-handled jars from southern 
Palestine and the local product was so strong that they could not 
be distinguished by traditional methods. The introduction of 
scientific measurements of the fabric (in the past decade or so) 
has revealed that clays of different origin had been used. This 
emphasises one important factor in scientific measurements on 
pottery which will be discussed later. 

In the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period there is 
an absence of imported pottery and a sharp change in shape. The 
variety of shapes disappears and during the First Intermediate 
period there seems to be a deterioration in the quality of the pottery 

The Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period are 
interesting because the pottery has a wide range of shapes and 
styles and is marked by the introduction of a two-man pottery 
wheel. This seems to be a period of well-organised professional 
potters who were developing new techniques and who were 
probably influenced by pottery from the Levant and Cyprus. 

The New Kingdom is also an interesting period: the blue-painted 
vases appeared and trade with the Eastern Mediterranean was 
booming, with the import of such commodities as perfumed oil, 
cosmetics and perfume from Mycenae and opium from Cyprus. 
This trade was not just a rich person's prerogative, for Mycenaean 
sherds have been found in dwellings of the rich and poor. This 
trade seemed to take place on a large scale: in some minor official's 
graves one-third of the burials contained imported pottery from 
the Levant. 

Pottery is a very important factor in unravelling the trading 
habits of ancient man, and this is equally true in Egypt. 
Archaeologists have developed techniques, based on shapes and 
styles together with a visual study of clay fabric (colour and 
texture), for discriminating local production from imported 
material. Further, they are able to distinguish several types of local 
ware. This exercise of distinguishing local wares from each other 
and from imported material is extremely important. As a general 

210 The investigation 

rule pottery produced hundreds of kilometres apart is very 
different and can usually be distinguished visually However, there 
are problems as mentioned earlier: for example copies of 
Palestinian wavy-handled jars were so good that visual techniques 
were inadequate and more objective methods are required. When 
sites are close, ten kilometres or so, visual distinction can be 
hampered by the fact that potters were using similar techniques 
and raw materials. Colour can be very misleading, because the 
firing process can change the colour of a pot even when the potter 
and starting materials are identical. 

Over the last century various scientific methods have been 
developed to offset these difficulties: 

(a) classical analysis; 

(b) thin section; 

(c) atomic absorption; 

(d) neutron activation analysis. 

These methods are listed in order of development and 
sophistication, and this is the order they should be applied to a 
problem. Ceramics produced large distances apart, probably on 
different continents, can usually be distinguished by methods (a) 
or (b). As the problem gets more difficult method (c) could help, 
and method (d) should only be used for the more intractable 
problems such as distinguishing pottery produced at kiln sites 
operating within 10 km of each other. 

(a) Classical analysis 

This technique has been applied to archaeological problems since 
the middle of the nineteenth century. In the case of pottery the 
problem is to distinguish one potter's products from another. This 
is done by identifying differences in the clay used and/or in 
technique. Classical analysis can be used to measure the major 
elements present in clay: aluminium, silicon, magnesium, sodium, 
potassium, calcium and iron. The ratio of these seven elements to 
each other may distinguish one clay source from another: possibly 
a Nile silt from a marl clay, but more readily an Egyptian clay 
from a Greek clay. 

In addition, major element analysis can help in identifying the 
pigments used to colour pottery. The blue-painted pottery of the 
New Kingdom was thought to be coloured by the blue pigment 
calcium copper silicate (Egyptian Blue), but analysis has shown 

Analysis of Egyptian pottery 211 

that this is more probably a cobalt aluminate. It is possible to 
indicate that this cobalt aluminate first arose as a by-product of 
the silver smelting process. An interesting fact, evolving from 
chemical analysis, is that the cobalt containing silver ore that led 
to the discovery of this blue pigment most probably came from 
Bohemia and was introduced to Egypt by the Mycenaeans; there 
is certainly none in Egypt. It is interesting also that Egyptian Blue 
is somewhat of a misnomer because large quantities are found in 
Mycenae and the Levant and little in Egypt. 

(b) Thin section 

This is the traditional method of the geologist for studying rocks. 
It involves taking a thin section of the material to be investigated, 
a few millionths of a metre thick, and examining it under a 
microscope. The minerals present are identified by their 
appearance. A semi-quantitative estimate of the concentration of 
each mineral present can be obtained. This will identify the major 
minerals and the presence of inclusions like quartz and limestone. 
In addition, the method gives an indication whether the potter 
deliberately added limestone or sand as a temper to change the 
texture of his product. 

This is a tedious but relatively cheap method of distinguishing 
different pottery types and is a useful precursor to more complex 
methods like neutron activation analysis. 

(c) Atomic absorption 

With this method, as in (a), the ceramic has to be dissolved, a 
procedure not without problems. The solution is then sprayed 
into a flame where the atoms are excited; a light, specific for one 
element, is shone through the excited atoms and the amount of 
light absorbed is a measure of the concentration of that element 
in the ceramic. A different light source (lamp) is required for each 
element to be determined. For this reason it is unusual to measure 
more than about ten elements for each sample. This is adequate if 
the samples to be distinguished are very different, but is unlikely 
to be successful if the production centres were within a few 

212 The investigation 

(d) Neutron activation analysis 

The advantages of this method are: 

(i) small samples required; 

(ii) it is very specific, that is, identification of a trace element, 

say gallium, is unambiguous; 
(iii) element concentrations can be obtained precisely; 
(iv) more importantly, large numbers of elements (about 35) can 

be determined on one sample. 

The disadvantages are: 

(i) a nuclear reactor is required; 

(ii) additional expensive equipment is essential; and 

(iii) the technique is rather slow. 

Given that the reactor and expensive equipment are available, this 
is the only technique to distinguish samples of similar origin. 

In essence, the method involves placing the small sample from 
each pot or sherd in a nuclear reactor where it is made radioactive. 
This radioactivity is measured carefully to give the concentration 
of a large number of elements. If 50 samples have been measured, 
each for 35 elements, then this is a large amount of data which 
requires a considerable amount of work to unravel. This detailed 
information, with careful manipulation, is capable of making fine 
distinctions between samples. For example it is possible to 
distinguish different silts by their trace element concentrations. 

Applications of neutron activation analysis 

There have been several applications of neutron activation analysis 
to Egyptian pottery. A detailed study has been made of Tell el 
Yahudiyeh ware which was distributed throughout the Levant and 
Egypt as far south as Nubia in the Middle Bronze Age. The 
chemical analyses indicate that the most common source of clay 
is Nile alluvium; interestingly there is also a widely used material 
defined by the author (Maureen Kaplan) as 'Nile mixture', that is 
a mixture of alluvium and Pleistocene clay. Since the Pleistocene 
clay lies below the alluvium, the 'mixture' can be adventitious or 
deliberate. The latter is more likely because the 'mixture' always 
contains 20-30 per cent Pleistocene clay. The chemical analyses 
showed that there were two major production sites of Tell el 
Yahudiyeh ware using Nile alluvium; these were on the island of 

Analysis of Egyptian pottery 213 

Elephantine at Aswan and the other group consisted of vessels 
from Faras and Verma. 

Kahun is an interesting site, being the home of labourers who 
built the Sesostris II pyramid. In addition to local pottery made in 
Egypt there is considerable evidence for imported pottery being 
found at this site. There have been two separate analyses by 
neutron activation of pottery from Kahun. It would seem that 
Egyptian ware is made from Nile alluvium, and the imported 
pottery (on stylistic grounds) is very different chemically from 
Egyptian ware. More detailed analyses are in progress to see if 
differences can be established for Nile alluvium. Professor Noll 
has pointed out that Nile alluvium is a material low in lime content 
and there are calcareous clays, high in lime, for example marl 
clays. Indeed, Professor Noll has indicated that lime content is a 
useful criterion for the classification of ancient Egyptian pottery. 
It is interesting to note that lime has a physical effect on pottery 
production: it makes the clay easier to sinter and hence more 
waterproof. It would reduce the porosity of the final pot, which is 
an unsatisfactory result for water containers which need to lose 
water by evaporation through the pores to keep the water cool. 
The Kahun pottery is non-calcareous, typical of a pot made from 
Nile alluvium. There are several analyses of Nile alluvium which 
indicate that it is a fairly uniform material in that the 
concentrations of many elements are very similar. Neutron 
activation analysis is the ideal technique to use in such a situation 
and this will probably reveal, as some already suggest, slight 
differences in Nile alluvium at different periods and in different 

The Manchester Kahun project team has analysed, using neutron 
activation analysis, some of the pottery excavated by Petrie from 
rubbish dumps and workers' homes in Kahun. There is no doubt 
that some of the pottery is imported, the concentration of trace 
elements being very different to the locally made ware. This 
confirms previous findings and the archaeological visual 
inspection of the samples. The local material is very similar to 
that expected for Nile mud, but interestingly there appears to be 
more than one type of Nile mud. Further analysis of the data may 
enable the team to identify the source of the imports, and also, if 
there is more than one type of import. In the future the project 
team intend to study the problem of Nile mud in more detail, 
particularly with respect to variations with time and location. 

214 The investigation 

Related problems could be concerned with Predynastic pottery 
which is also made from Nile mud. 

Problems arise in the study of Egyptian pottery because a large 
amount of it is made from Nile mud which tends to have a uniform 
composition. Differences can arise because of different proportions 
of sand, clay and mud present in the pot. These could be present 
in the raw material (different flood conditions) or added 
deliberately by the potter. The Manchester project team will 
contribute to the study of Egyptian pottery by looking for these 
additions and measuring a large number of elements (about 30) 
by neutron activation analysis. This is the only approach for this 
complex problem and so far is untried. 


The Chemical Analysis of the 
Kahun Metals 

Dr G.Gilmore, Universities Research Reactor, Risley 

The metal objects found at Kahun were everyday items such as 
knives, chisels and needles together with mirrors, bowls and, most 
unexpectedly for an Egyptian site at this time, a neck ornament 
called a torque. In later times many of these items, particularly 
the tools, would have been made of iron, but at the time of Kahun 
iron was unknown and the objects are made of copper alloys. 
Although Kahun is classed an Early Bronze Age town, not all of 
the metallic objects were actually made of bronze. This period 
was one of transition from the copper age, which originated in 
Predynastic times when naturally occurring 'native' copper was 
found to be a satisfactory alternative to flint for making tools, to 
the Bronze Age proper when the superiority of copper alloyed 
with tin was recognised. 

Kahun presents us with an opportunity to examine everyday 
life in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt in some depth and many 
interesting questions spring to mind when we consider where the 
ordinary day-to-day objects, the pottery, the tools and fabrics, 
might have come from. Were they made in the town itself or were 
they brought in by way of trade? If they were indeed imported — 
was this from near or afar? For example, much of the pottery was 
clearly Aegean in style and the weights and measures were 
identifiable as Middle Eastern, suggesting these items had been 
imported in some way. When we look for the source of the copper 
tools we can not be so sure. There are three possibilities we can 
consider: that the tools were made in Kahun itself; that they were 
imported from metal-producing centres in Egypt; or that, in 


216 The investigation 

common with some other items, they were imported from distant 

At most sites known to have carried out smelting, evidence is 
available in the form of furnace sites, slags, metal globules and 
such like. At Kahun, Petrie excavated a caster's shop, complete 
with moulds for manufacturing knives and hatchets, but this 
operation would only involve the remelting of copper and there 
is no direct evidence that smelting was carried on in the town 

Some 2000 years later than the lifetime of Kahun, Pliny the 
Elder, in his Natural History, described the qualities of copper 
from different sources with sufficient confidence to list them in 
order of excellence. To understand why one copper should be 
different from another we should look at how the primitive 
smelters produced their metals. 

Metals such as copper are manufactured by smelting. 
Chemically the process is one of reduction of an oxide to the metal 
and in antiquity would have been brought about by heating a 
suitable ore with charcoal — the latter being both fuel for the 
heating and the agent bringing about the reduction. Copper 
containing minerals which were not oxides or carbonates (which 
easily form oxides on heating) could also be used, but these needed 
pretreatment such as roasting to convert them to a form suitable 
for smelting. 

In ancient times the quality of a metal would depend on the 
skill of the smelter and on the composition of the ores available 
to him. Apart from the ores themselves, various other materials 
are needed in order to free the metal from its chemical combination 
in the ore. 

The metal is associated in the ore with unwanted components 
collectively referred to as 'gangue' which is separated from the 
metal by slagging. Extra materials are added to the smelt to produce 
a silicate — the slag — which is liquid at the temperature of the 
furnace. In a well-regulated, efficient furnace, the more dense metal 
will then fall to the bottom of the furnace to form a pool. The 
lighter slag remains at the top of the furnace and is removed 
mechanically after the furnace cools or, in a more advanced type 
of furnace, by tapping off the liquid slag while hot. 

We must bear in mind that the primitive smelter lacked the 
means to analyse his materials chemically and he would have 
been dependent upon his ability to recognise satisfactory ores and 

The chemical analysis of the Kahun metals 217 

fluxes by their colour or hardness — indeed by any visual or tactile 
information he could get, perhaps aided by folklore. It is therefore 
not surprising that a metal could be identified as a product of a 
particular place by virtue of its quality. 

Excavations in the Negev desert at Wadi Tirana since 1964 have 
unearthed several primitive smelting sites. This large area, not 
too far distant from Kahun, was largely undisturbed and the Israeli 
archaeologists discovered smelting hearths, some of which predate 
Kahun and others which were active long afterwards. We can 
suppose that the site would have been active during the occupation 
of Kahun and, although there is no evidence to suggest this, we 
might suppose that copper from Timna could have found its way 
to Kahun. Whether or not this is true, Timna provides an example 
of how copper would have been produced at the time of Kahun 
whether in the town itself or elsewhere. 

FIGURE 6 An impression of the type of smelting hearth which might have been 
in use in Egypt at the time of Kahun. The inclined pipe is a tuyere for supplying 
a forced draught using bellows. 

The type of furnace used would probably have been a bowl 
furnace, little more than a shallow hole in the ground perhaps 20 
to 30 cm in diameter. There may have been some sort of 
arrangement for producing a forced draught possibly blown by 
bellows. The bowl would have been charged with a mixture of 
copper ore, charcoal and flux. The copper ores which would have 
been used then, and are still present now at Timna, were of the 
oxide type and, since such ores are generally associated with 
excess silica, we can deduce that an iron-containing flux such as 
haematite must have been used. 

Both the ore and the flux contain impurities and, just as the 
copper oxide is reduced in the furnace to metallic copper, so some 

218 The investigation 

of these impurities would be reduced as well. They would then 
be incorporated into the copper to an extent depending upon the 
solubility of the impurity in the copper and the conditions within 
the furnace. For example, if the temperature of the furnace were 
high enough the copper would, quite readily, absorb iron from 
the slag. The resulting iron would be brittle and most unsuitable 
for tools liable to encounter shock, such as chisels. On the other 
hand impurities such as arsenic harden copper and are beneficial. 
Indeed, in some cases arsenic-containing mineral was probably 
added to achieve just this effect. The smelter himself may not 
have known what he was adding — just that a little bit of 'this and 
that' made his copper more desirable. 

At first sight, it would be expected that arsenic, a very volatile 
metal, would be vaporised in the furnace and lost. However, 
experiments with models of these early furnaces have shown that 
most of the arsenic is retained in the copper. More knowledgeable 
smelters might remelt their copper to remove the excess iron and 
this would further alter the impurity concentrations of the copper. 
We know that such a process would cause heavy losses of the 
volatile elements. 

The addition of tin to copper, to make a bronze, was almost 
certainly intentional and represents an advance in technology. 
Mixed copper/tin ores are rare and the accidental incorporation 
of tin is much less likely. The tin would probably have been added 
as the tin oxide, cassiterite, mixed with the copper ore before 

It would seem, then, that the elemental composition of a metal 
may tell us something of the technological capabilities of the 
smelters. A high iron concentration, for example, might indicate 
that the makers of a particular item were not aware that remelting 
would produce a better copper. Over and above these technological 
aspects, themselves of considerable interest, we expect that the 
copper produced would bear, to some extent, the signature of the 
raw materials used. If each ore has an individual impurity 'pattern' 
then the copper produced from the ore may retain some of this 
individuality and, in principle at least, allow the ore to be 
identified from the composition of any object made from it. We 
cannot rely upon elements such as arsenic and iron, which might 
have been deliberately modified, and we must look instead at the 
trace elements. The hope is that if copper is found with an 
uncharacteristically high, or low, concentration of a particular 

The chemical analysis of the Kahun metals 219 

element this would reveal a particular source of copper ore. This 
principle has been of great value in other contexts in identifying 
the source of silver ores by reference to the concentration of their 
gold impurity. 

In his publication of the Kahun finds Petrie stressed the presence 
of weights, measures and pottery not native to Egypt, which 
suggested that immigrant workers were employed in Kahun. If 
these workers imported their pottery perhaps they also imported 
their tools. By analysing these tools and comparing them with 
material from other areas we might find some aspect of their 
composition, perhaps only in the trace element composition, 
which would label them as 'foreign'. A decision was therefore 
made to analyse as many as possible of the Kahun copper objects 
in the Manchester Museum. There was one factor in our favour, 
for there were in the Manchester Museum just two samples of 
copper ore found at Kahun, and an analysis of these might provide 
an indication of the composition of a locally smelted copper. 

The analysis 

Several methods of analysis would have been suitable for this 
study but that chosen was Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA). 
The technique is exceedingly sensitive and can measure several 
elements at one time. The major disadvantage of the method, 
the need for a nuclear reactor, was already solved by the 
availability of the Universities Research Reactor, owned jointly 
by Manchester and Liverpool Universities, a short distance away. 
NAA involves irradiation of the samples within the reactor 
which, as one might expect, makes them radioactive. It so 
happens that each of the components of the metal produce a 
different radioactive isotope which, using suitable equipment, 
can be separately measured to allow calculation of the 
concentration of each constituent of the sample. 

Although most of the radioactivity is of short half-life and would 
decay away fairly rapidly, it is not desirable to have museum 
specimens radioactive to any degree, and instead, small samples 
were taken from each of the tools. Of course, taking samples from 
museum exhibits can be a contentious matter but the sensitivity 
of NAA is such that samples of as little as ten milligrams of copper 
are sufficient without compromising the ability to determine a 
range of elements including some trace elements. Moreover the 

220 The investigation 

samples need not be destroyed but can be retained for re-analysis 
in the future should there be a need, avoiding further sampling of 
the objects. The samples were taken by either drilling or filing 
tools using a hand-held model-maker's drill and a range of rotary 
tools including dental burrs. For some samples drills as small as 
0.5 millimetres in diameter were used — a test of nerves for the 
sampler and no room for shaking hands. The drillings, or filings, 
were carefully collected and eventually weighed into polyethylene 
irradiation containers. 

FIGURE 7 A drill, 0.5 mm in diameter, points to the hole drilled in one of the 
Kahun axes. The inset shows, at the same scale, the hole drilled in 1898 when 
the axe was first sampled for analysis. 

Different radio-isotopes have different rates of growth and decay. 
For example, one of the isotopes of copper has a half-life as short 
as 5 minutes while iron produces an isotope of 45 days half-life. 
The general procedure in NAA is to use short irradiations, with 
short decay periods, to measure the short-lived isotopes and long 
irradiations, followed by long periods of decay, to measure the 
long-lived isotopes. 

Accordingly the samples were irradiated twice — a short 
irradiation of 3 minutes, to selectively activate copper, tin and 
indium, and then a much longer irradiation of 7 hours to allow 
the longer-lived arsenic, antimony, gold, silver, iron, zinc, 
chromium, cobalt and selenium activities to 'grow'. After each 
irradiation the samples were measured using a gamma 

The chemical analysis of the Kahun metals 221 

spectrometer. This instrument sorts out the many different gamma 
rays emitted by the sample by energy and presents them as an 
understandable spectrum. The position of each peak in the gamma 
ray spectrum allows each element to be identified and the size of 
the peak represents the concentration of the element in the sample. 
Twelve elements in all were measured in each sample. The 
Achilles Heel of neutron activation analysis, with respect to 
metals, is lead. This element, although becoming radioactive, does 
not give an isotope suitable for gamma ray spectrometry. 
Fortunately, lead is not usually found in substantial amounts in 
copper or bronze until much later in the Bronze Age and we 
assumed that the lead concentrations would not be significant. In 
fact, this assumption does appear to be reasonable since, in most 
cases, the analysis does account for the whole of the sample. 

The reckoning 

Kahun stands at a technological cross-roads. In the early history 
of metalworking use was made of native copper, that is copper 
occurring naturally as the metal. This was easily recognisable and 
needed no smelting. Later in his development, man learned how 
to smelt the simple oxide ores and such pure, or at least 
unmodified, coppers were in use in the Egyptian Archaic Period 
of the First and Second Dynasties. Somewhat later, in the Old 
Kingdom, arsenical coppers made their appearance. Perhaps, in 
the first place, certain ores which contained high levels of arsenic 
were found to produce more useful copper. Later it may have been 
realised that this 'high-tech' copper could be produced from other 
ores by adding arsenic-containing materials during the smelting. 

This technological progression is common to all metal- 
producing societies and eventually leads to a Bronze Age proper. 
Egypt is no exception. By the time the New Kingdom arrived 
almost all copper-based metal which was made was bronze, 
produced by adding substantial amounts of tin to the copper. 
Kahun flourished during the period of transition between the 
arsenical copper age and the bronze age and this is reflected in 
the analysis of the metals. 

All of the Kahun coppers analysed contain arsenic. With one 
exception the concentrations are such as could have arisen, by 
chance, from impurities in the copper ore. However, the ore 
fragments found in the foundation deposits contain less than one 

222 The investigation 

FIGURE 8 The Universities Research Reactor at Risley- 

-a surprising ally for the 

hundredth of the arsenic found in the samples. If these particular 
ore samples are indeed representative of the local copper ores we 
would have to conclude either that the metals were not made from 
local ores or that arsenic was deliberately added in some way. 
Most of the samples also contain tin although in many cases it 
would be misleading to call the alloy a bronze. For example, a 
particular needle contains 0.55% of tin and 0.46% of arsenic. A 
typical bronze would contain, say, 5 to 10% of tin as do some of 
the Kahun samples which we can clearly designate as bronze — 
among them the torque. 

While a tin concentration of, say, 5% is readily explained away 
as deliberate addition, a 0.5% tin is more difficult. This is much 
more than would be expected from impurity in the ore and rather 
less than we might expect from deliberate addition. Does such a 
concentration represent a 'bad lot' of tin ore or was such a low 
concentration intended? 

The iron concentration in the tools, averaging 0.6% , is consistent 
with that expected from copper produced by the smelting of oxide 
ores and the refining by remelting. Some of the samples contained 
over 1 % of iron and it may be that these coppers were not purified. 
The highest concentration of iron measured was 3.4% in a broken 

The chemical analysis of the Kahun metals 223 

chisel — perhaps no accident bearing in mind that iron renders 
copper brittle. 

Other minor and trace element concentrations present a 
confusing picture. Certain items contain strangely high levels of 
particular elements — a needle with almost 1% of silver, for 
example, whereas all other samples contain less than one tenth of 
this amount. It would be satisfying to be able to assign significance 
to the fact that the torque and the bowl contain considerably more 
gold than all the other samples. It is tempting to suggest that the 
atypical composition of the torque indicates a foreign origin, a 
conclusion supported to some extent by the rarity of the torque in 
Egypt at this time. Such a temptation must be resisted when we 
consider that the differences in composition are so marginal. 

One possible way of looking for order in such a large body of 
analytical data would be to group together items related in some 
way and to search for statistical differences between the mean 
compositions of these groups. For example, we might expect the 
items designated as 'Group 9' by Petrie, which were all found 
together, to be more alike in composition than the whole mass of 
objects. Alternatively, we might suppose that all the knives, or 
chisels, taken together might show a more consistent composition 
than the whole. However, this is not the case. It seems that 
whichever 'meaningful' group of objects are taken it will contain 
just one or two rogues which destroy the cohesion of the group. 


Chromium Tin 

■ — ,JL_-— ■ — ^ 











FIGURE 9 A small portion of the gamma spectrum of an irradiated sample taken 
from a Kahun knife. The position of each peak identifies an element, the area of 
the peak is related to the concentration of the element. 

224 The investigation 

Comparing the Kahun coppers with those from other areas gives 
little help either. Copper alloys of the same period from Greece, 
for example, exhibit the same general patterns — a mixture of 
copper, arsenical copper and bronze with no obvious 
distinguishing features. 

The model tools, together with one of the copper ore samples, 
were found in the temple foundation deposits. Most of the Kahun 
metals were in an excellent state of preservation, but unfortunately 
the models were found on examination to be completely corroded, 
without even a metallic core remaining. It would appear that they 
were immersed in water during their burial. In spite of the obvious 
possibility that corrosion would itself modify the relative 
concentrations of copper and the other elements it was decided 
to analyse the models as far as possible. 

In fact, the group of models does turn out to be the most 
homogeneous group of items. All are arsenical coppers with less 
than 0.5% of tin and reasonably low iron. But even here we have 
an 'odd-man-out'. One sample unexpectedly contains 0.3% of 
silver and a relatively high gold concentration. Again we note the 
high purity of the copper ore found with the models compared to 
the composition of the models themselves. 

The simplest hypothesis to account for the presence of metal 
objects at Kahun is that copper was mined, smelted and formed 
locally. Although there is no direct evidence for this, let us examine 
the indirect evidence which would suggest that smelting could 
have been carried out at Kahun. Petrie described in his account of 
the excavation of Kahun 'fragments of peculiar materials may be 
noticed, black fibrous haematite; obsidian; large pieces of red oxide 
of iron, for paint; green carbonate of copper ore; . . . ' Now here we 
have, albeit only in token amounts, two of the materials needed 
for copper smelting — copper ore and an iron flux. Apart from 
charcoal, which we may assume to be available, the only other 
essential ingredient is expertise, for which we need look no further 
than the immigrant workforce. On several occasions Petrie suggests 
their origin as Cyprus — an island renowned throughout history 
for its production of copper. Maybe we see at Kahun not the import 
of objects, but the import of technology. 

At Gurob only 15 miles or so from Kahun, Petrie discovered 
direct evidence for smelting in the area — but 400 years later in 
time. In this 18th Dynasty town were found copper ore, copper 
slag in a crucible, haematite (of several grades), pure tin and 

The chemical analysis of the Kahun metals 225 

orpiment. Orpiment, a mineral used as a dye and pigment, is a 
significant find, for it consists of arsenic trisulphide — one of the 
few materials which could have been added to a copper ore to 
produce an arsenical copper. 

Most tantalising of all is a fragment of a papyrus rescued from 
the cartonnage case of a mummy which refers to 'the copper 
mines'. Great would have been the rejoicing had sufficient been 
recovered to tell us where these mines were! Now, of course, none 
of this proves that extensive metalworking was carried on at 
Kahun. What it does tell us is that the necessary raw materials 
were available. 

Is the analytical information consistent with the hypothesis? 
The Kahun coppers are just what we would expect from the 
smelting of a carbonate ore using an iron flux with the probable 
addition of an arsenical mineral, such as orpiment, using a simple 
type of forced draught furnace. We must assume that a tin ore was 
available for bronze making. It is interesting that copper ore was 
placed in the foundation deposits along with tools. Would the ore 
have been placed there at all if the village were not familiar with 
smelting as an everyday occupation? It has been suggested that 
the foundation deposits laid beneath the temple were intended 
for the 'kas' (spirits) of the builders of the temple to enable them 
to keep it in good repair. Surely there would have been little point 
in depositing copper ore unless those 'kas' were able, as in real 
life, to use the ore to make and repair their tools. 

It is more than likely that if, as we now suppose, smelting were 
carried out at Kahun, the actual site would be outside the township 
itself — near the mine source of the copper perhaps. Then, as now, 
the smelting industry would not make a pleasant neighbour. We 
should not, perhaps, be surprised that in an excavation limited to 
the town itself no direct evidence was found of metal production. 
We can but hope that any future expedition to Kahun will give 
some attention to the outlying parts of the town and its 
surroundings to search for more tangible evidence. 


Kahun: The Textile Evidence 

by Joan Allgrove McDowell 

'Who could have ventured a hope for a complete, untouched and 
unencumbered town of the 12th Dynasty? It is a prize beyond all 

So W.M. Flinders Petrie wrote in his Journal, which survives in 
manuscript at the Petrie Museum, London. It is typical of the man 
that he was so excited by a mere workmen's village — an emotion 
not shared by many archaeologists of his day. As busy as ever he 
was, he supervised during two seasons, 1889-90 and 1890-91, 
the four sites of Illahun, Kahun, Gurob and Hawara. His careful 
recording, aided by his impressive knowledge of tools, techniques 
and terminology, has given us a unique insight into the textile 
crafts carried out in the houses of the Kahun workforce, where 
previously there was only pictorial evidence of 12th Dynasty 
workshop production. 

The collections of tools, now in Manchester Museum and the 
Petrie Museum, London, cover flax preparation (with a rare flax- 
stripper), spinning, weaving and finishing of linen cloth, cording 
and netting with linen, palm and rush fibre, as well as basketry, 
matting and sandal-making of rush and palm. Everywhere there 
are signs of the careful use of materials and of the recycling which 
is still part of Egyptian life — nothing was wasted, it seems — and 
since handles were made of textile fibre, where today they are of 
plastic, tools and containers used by Kahun's inhabitants can be 
reconstructed. The fragments of dyed wool are perhaps the single 
most important find, but quite extraordinary is the almost total 
absence of woven cloth or garments, a problem we shall return 
to later. 


FIGURE 10 a) and b) Weaving sequence. Tomb of Khnumhotep, Beni Hasan. 
(Newberry, op. cit.) and H.Hodges, Ancient Technology, p. 98). 

228 The investigation 

Egypt's linen cloth was famous in the ancient world for, as well 
as making prodigious amounts for mummification, it was one of 
her chief exports. Despite the millions of metres of bandaging now 
in the world's museums, however, no systematic study has been 
made of this superficially unexciting material and the opportunity 
of recording an important collection from a Middle Kingdom 
dwelling site like Kahun is indeed welcome. 

Some of Egypt's earliest textiles are also the finest, and cloth of 
the Predynastic period shows fully developed techniques. This 
disconcerting phenomenon, familiar to Egyptologists, has 
presented modern scholars with evidence of the taming of the 
Nile, a sophisticated, centralised government, and the mastery of 
crafts like hard stone-cutting at the beginning of the Dynastic 
period, all arguing a long history as yet unknown to us. In the 
case of textiles, their making is such an early and fundamental 
activity that in many cultures, including nomadic ones, weaving 
goes back to their early history but, even so, is preceded by plaiting, 
cording, basketry and mat-making. But, whereas rushes, skins and 
wool can be utilised by hunting and herding societies, linen can 
be produced on any scale only by a sedentary population. 

The Egyptian language included hieroglyphs for linen, * ti^and 
for fine linen f^% H#a, and ^^ ^, all showing a weaver's comb 
or beater: i^yindicating an organised industry and quality control 
when the written language was in its infancy. 

The 12th Dynasty, towards the end of the Middle Kingdom, is 
an important watershed in Egyptian textile history, when old 
techniques were about to meet competition from new tools and 
methods which are thought to have been introduced by the Hyksos, 
and which include a different form of spindle-whorl and the 
vertical loom. 

Of the four major natural textile fibres: linen, cotton, wool and 
silk, linen and wool were known in Egypt from earliest times. 
And, whereas the wool of prehistoric Europe has disappeared, 
leaving only a partial picture of textile activity, Egypt's dry and 
sterile soil has preserved both animal and vegetable material, 
giving evidence of wool and of vegetable fibres like linen, rush, 
papyrus and palm-fibre, dating from about 5500 BC. 

A number of Predynastic sites have provided indications of cloth 
production. In 1913 Peet discovered, in the dwellings of a small 
farming village at Abydos of about 5500 BC, spindle-whorls of 
groundstone and bone, loom-weights and needles, pointing to 

Kahun: the textile evidence 229 

domestic activity. The Predynastic settlements of Omari, southeast 
of Cairo, and investigated between 1944 and 1952 by Debono but 
not yet published, yielded skins, flax seeds (L.usitatissimum), 
mats, spindle-whorls, bone needles and cloth. Even earlier is the 
Neolithic site of Kom W. in the northern Fayoum, dating from 
6000 BC and excavated by G.Caton-Thompson in 1924-6. Whorls 
and signs of flax-growing were found on this site, dating from the 
long transitional phase of climate changes between c.7000 and 
6000 BC, when hunter-gatherers were altering their lifestyle, first 
to seasonal settlements, then to village and mixed-farming 
communities. In this respect, and in trade links and 
communications with desert peoples, the Fayoum was a crucial 
area in Egypt's development, but its independent culture was to 
be submerged by that of Upper Egypt after unification. 

The recent reassessment and fresh investigation of old sites by 
a new generation of archaeologists and prehistorians like M. 
Hoffman puts the pioneering work of Petrie and those like him in 
their proper perspective, and the picture which is emerging is an 
exciting one. A continuous history — with gaps caused by lack of 
evidence — of life along the Nile and in the adjoining regions goes 
back to the Palaeolithic Age, and the independent growth in 
North and South does not necessarily require the incursion of a 

FIGURE 11 Weaving sequence. Tomb of Khnumhotep, Beni Hasan. (Newberry). 

230 The investigation 

'dynastic race' to explain the high level of culture in the land 
after unification. 

The flax plant, which is believed to have originated in the Near 
East, does not seem to have grown in its wild form 
(L.ongustifolium) in ancient Egypt, for seeds of only the two main 
domesticated varieties, L.humile and L.usitatissimum, which 
superseded it, have been found. At first possibly only the seeds 
were gathered for their oil, which would augment other food oils 
like sesame and castor oil, and other plant-fibres such as grasses, 
reeds and papyrus were used for the plaiting and making of non- 
woven cloth, mats and rope. Even after the properties of its fibres 
were known, the plant may have been gathered in its wild state, 
before it was grown as a crop. It requires a settled agricultural 
community to grow and tend the crop, a rich soil and a good 
water supply — which would pre-suppose taming the waters of the 

FIGURE 12 Horizontal loom. Tomb of Khnumhotep, Beni Hasan. (Ling Roth, 
Ancient Egyptians & Greek Loom). 

Kahun: the textile evidence 231 

Nile — and the skill to carry out the quite complex processes of 
preparing the fibres for spinning. 

The growing, harvesting and preparation of flax was hard manual 
work, and was done by men. It grows to a height of about one metre 
in a short time, and favours a sandy soil. The earliest evidence of its 
growth is in the Fayoum and Delta regions, as we have seen. In the 
Dynastic Period, as today, it was a winter crop, sown in mid-November 
and harvested toward the end of March of our calendar, the harvesting 
dictated to some extent by the use to which the crop was to be put. 
The stem has a thick, woody core and a hard outer covering, with the 
bast fibres between. Half-ripe yellow stems were soft enough to 
produce good quality thread, but if the plant was harvested too early 
the fibres would be weak, and if left until the plant was completely 
ripe the fibres would be fit only for mats and rope. It was pulled out 
of the ground, not cut, an activity often shown in tomb-paintings, 
and sorted into evenly-sized bundles. After drying in the sun for a 
short time, the rippling process was carried out with a coarse comb- 
like wooden tool known as a flax-stripper, of which one from Kahun 
is in the Manchester Museum. This would break up the hard outer 
fibres of the flax stalks and separate the seed capsules, from which 
oil was made. Rippling facilitates the next operation of retting, or 
soaking the stems in water. This could last for up to fourteen days, 
allowing fermentation which helped to soften and separate the bast 
fibres from the woody parts. Retting is often shown in Middle 
Kingdom tomb-paintings, taking place in a square tank, though 
sometimes the fibres are seen boiling in a pot. After retting, it was 
possible to separate the bast fibres from the rest. This was done by 
hand before the New Kingdom. Then they were beaten to soften them 
further, scraped (scutching), and combed or hackled with a heavy 
saw-toothed beater. It is said of flax that the rougher it is treated the 
better, although a skilled operator knows how far he can go without 
damaging the bast fibres. There is no doubt that the time and effort 
put into fibre preparation by the ancient Egyptians contributed in no 
small way to the excellence of the finished cloth. The combination 
of drying, soaking and beating resulted in smooth, silky grey fibres 
ready to be combed and rolled into bundles of parallel fibres known 
as rovings, for spinning. 

At some stage scouring and bleaching must take place; if textiles 
are to be dyed, before dyeing. Linen fibres could be put through 
this process either before or after weaving, or both, and it will be 
described later, as part of cloth finishing. 

232 The investigation 

The object of spinning is to make a long, continuous thread 
from fibres too short to weave in their natural state, and 
spinning and twisting cause individual scaly projections of the 
fibres to adhere to each other along their irregular surfaces. 
The resulting thread should have strength and elasticity. Hand- 
spinning is simple to do but nevertheless requires skill, which 
has always been abundant in Egypt. Tomb-paintings and 
models, which generally depict workshops, show women 
spinners, though from the time of Herodotus to today men have 
spun as well. It has been traditionally a domestic activity, taken 
up when there is leisure for it and easily put down again, 
whether in the home or at today's tourist sites, where one 
encounters an occasional male guard spinning between parties 
of visitors. 'In the production of clothing and thread these 
people were not at all behindhand', wrote Petrie, and at Kahun 
spindles and whorls were found in the workmen's houses, to 
be taken up and put down at will, as women and children still 
do all over the Near and Middle East while minding the sheep, 
cattle or goats or gossiping with their neighbours. As well as 
providing thread for the family's use, it could earn the maker a 
little extra income. 

The most primitive form of spinning was done with the finger 
and palm of the hand, or by rolling the fibres between hand and 
thigh (seen at Beni Hasan), but the spindle was a very early 
invention, as we have seen. 

There are two important and near-contemporary sources of 
evidence for the use of the textile tools from Kahun. The first is at 
Beni Hasan, about 150 kilometres south of Kahun, on the Nile's 
east bank and in the old Oryx no me of Upper Egypt. The provinces 
had enjoyed comparative independence since the First 
Intermediate Period, and the rulers and high officials lived much 
like the feudal princes of medieval Europe and were buried in 
their own lands. The end of the 12th Dynasty saw the end of 
decentralisation, however, and direct power invested again in the 
Pharaoh's person. At Beni Hasan the last of the great figures of the 
period built themselves rock-cut tombs in the limestone cliffs, 
with painted scenes. Many of these belonged to nomarchs of the 
12th Dynasty (c. 1991-1786 BC), and their families, and can be 
dated by inscriptions; four were painted with scenes showing 
textile production. 

Tomb 2 of the North Group was built for Amenemhet, Governor 

Kahun: the textile evidence 233 

of the Oryx nome, who died in the 43rd year of the Pharaoh 
Usertsen I (Sesostris I, 1971-1928 BC). He calls himself 'Sem- 
Master of all the tunics' and 'Superintendent of Weaving' and on 
his tomb walls, among other industries for which he was 
responsible, are scenes of flax cultivation, steeping flax in water 
(retting), in what looks like a small enclosure, beating flax, rovings 
being placed in a box, rope-making and the folding of cloth. All 
the operators are men. In the tomb of Khnumhotep II (Tomb 3, 
North Group), who bore the same titles as Amenemhet and who 
was buried in the sixth year of Usertsen II (Sesostris II), the Pharaoh 
who built the pyramid at Illahun and Kahun, are the same scenes 
of flax-beating as well as rope-making, women weavers and a 
woman holding a spindle, watched by a male overseer. Tomb 17 
of the South Group was occupied by Khety, among whose titles 
were 'Master of linen and linen manufacturers', 'Superintendent 
of weavers' and 'Superintendent of washing of linen'. The north 
wall of this tomb was painted with rows of women spinning, 
netting and weaving while opposite, on the south wall, is a colossal 
painted figure of Khety himself, holding his staff and baton of 
office while an attendant holds a parasol over his head and another 
carries his sandals. Baqt III (Tomb 15) goes one better as 
'Superintendent of linens and linen-makers, spinners and twine- 
makers', and his tomb shows similar scenes. 

Many of the paintings, until recently in parlous condition, were 
copied during the nineteenth century, at different dates and each 
differing slightly in detail. They undoubtedly record one of the 
important industries of the region during the Middle Kingdom, 
cloth production, the organisation of which was apparently in 
the hands of the Governor. Although they display workshop 
conditions, the various tasks carried out by individuals would 
not be beyond a worker at home. Although restored in the 1980s, 
the Beni Hasan paintings still present problems. Flax preparation, 
spinning and rope-making are repeated often enough for 
comparison, and are identical. It is the looms which have caused 
difficulties of interpretation, as they appear to be vertical in the 
tomb scenes, which has caused some scholars to assert that 
Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom knew the vertical loom. We 
shall return to this matter later, when discussing the loom. Suffice 
it to say that the other source of evidence for textile production of 
the Middle Kingdom, tomb models, which were the predecessors 
of servant statuettes or shabtis and which were placed in tombs 

234 The investigation 

from the 5th Dynasty onward, to ensure that the deceased owner 
had squads of labourers and craftsmen to hand in the afterlife, 
agreed with the Beni Hasan scenes where flax-preparation, 
spinning and rope-making are concerned. 

To return to spinning, the spindle and whorl shown at Beni 
Hasan and found in numbers at Kahun was in common use at 
least from Predynastic times (and whorls are found much earlier) 
up to the end of the Middle Kingdom, when alternative forms 
were introduced, although it was never entirely abandoned. The 
spindle is a slender, shaped wooden stick, at Kahun varying from 
7 to 15 cm long, pointed at one end for insertion into the whorl 
and rounded at the other, with a spiral groove into which the thread 
was attached. The whorl has a central hole to take the spindle 
end, and can be made of bone, pottery or wood. The Kahun whorls 
are of wood and are of the early type, namely a flat, round disc. 
Spindles and whorls are smoothed and polished, to avoid catching 
the thread, and several whorls in this collection have traces of 
mud or stucco, which might have supported paint on their 

Before beginning, the spinner must place the roving comfortably, 
leaving both hands free. The distaff is a much later invention, 
introduced into Egypt in the Roman period, and at this time the 
bundle of fibres was held under the arm or rolled into a ball and 
placed in a pot. Beni Hasan shows the pot method and in one 
painting the spinner is standing, scantily clad to avoid tangling 
the thread with her clothing. 

The three types of hand-spinning with this spindle and whorl 
were used in ancient Egypt — all appear in the tombs of Baqt and 
Khety at Beni Hasan. They are the grasped spindle method, when 
spindle and thread are held in the hands, the supported spindle, 
when the spindle is rolled against the thigh, and the suspended 
spindle method, which is probably the most common since it 
produces stronger thread. To start spinning with the dropped 
spindle method, a length of prepared fibres is fastened in the 
groove at the spindle end, below the whorl, then the spindle is 
rotated and more fibres are paid out through the spinner's finger 
and thumb. The spindle's weight causes it to fall slowly, pulling 
the rotating thread with it, and when it has reached the ground, 
the spinner will pick it up, wind the spun thread into a ball and 
start again. 

The fibres are wetted before spinning, often between the lips, 

Kahun: the textile evidence 235 

and linen has a predisposition to twist naturally to the right 
(known as S-twist) when wet. Although the spinner can choose 
the spin direction, she is unlikely to slow down the work by going 
against the natural inclination of the fibre, so the vast majority of 
ancient Egyptian thread is S-twist, a useful criterion when the 
origin of a specimen is unknown. 

Thread is spun with its ultimate purpose in mind, and a skilled 
spinner knows which type of spin to choose: tightly-spun or 
'high-twist' thread for warps, which must be strong, coarse fibres 
for heavy cloth, and finer fibres and looser twist for wefts when 
a smooth surface for the cloth is required. Middle Kingdom tomb 
scenes and models show women spinners seated or standing to 
spin, and also depict spinning with two spindles at once, a 
method needing very great skill which does not seem to have 

Spun yarn could be made thicker and stronger by plying or 
twisting several threads together, generally in the opposite 
direction to that in which it was spun, so that ancient Egyptian 
plied thread is most commonly S-spun and Z-plied. However, a 
considerable number of S-plied threads were found among the 
Kahun examples. What Petrie called 'string' is 3 to 6-plied coarse 
linen thread, tightly plied for strength. 

The comparatively small amount of spun thread from Kahun is 
S-spun, and most of it is medium fine, with some coarse. There is 
also some very fine and tightly spun linen among the weaver's 
waste, arguing that high-quality cloth was woven, and a fragment 
of netting made with very fine yarn. There is 2-, 3-, and 4-plied 
thread but some of it is unusual in being S rather than Z-plied. 
Sewing thread is consistently S-spun, Z 2-plied linen. 

The wool is all S-spun and Z 2-plied, loose and medium tight. 
The weaving tools from Kahun may be few in number but, with 
the spindles and spun thread, they tell us a good deal about the 
weaving practice of the town. There is no trace in Egypt of very 
primitive weaving apparatus like the back-strap loom; the earliest 
and only loom until the Second Intermediate Period, the 
horizontal or ground loom, is simple but by no means primitive. 
It is still used by village and tribal weavers in the Near and 
Middle East because it is versatile and can be easily packed up 
and transported on migration. It first appears in Egypt painted 
on a pottery dish from a Badarian woman's tomb, and is the loom 
used by weavers of Kahun, who left a loom beam and heddle- 

236 The investigation 

jacks behind them. The vertical or upright loom is thought to 
have been introduced into Egypt from Western Asia by the 
Hyksos in about 1600 BC. This loom has a row of weights attached 
to the bottom end of the warps instead of a cloth beam, can 
produce wider cloth and the weavers shown using it are generally 
men. However, the horizontal loom, in true Egyptian fashion, 
remained in use. 

It consists of two strong wood beams, the warp and the cloth 
beam, each of which is supported by pegs driven into the ground. 
The warps are stretched over the beams and the weaver weaves 
from the cloth-beam end. It is more difficult to roll up finished 
cloth, so very long lengths are easier to weave on the vertical loom, 
but one advantage of the ground loom is that it allows the insertion 
of a number of heddle-rods. Despite theories that loom- weights 
on a site indicate the vertical loom, they can also be used to hang 
from the four corners of the ground loom, to keep the warps evenly 

To manufacture plainweave two heddle-rods are inserted 
across the warps, each carrying an alternate set of warps 
wrapped round it and fastened by string loops. By raising one 
rod a complete set of alternate warps is lifted higher than the 
others, making a space or shed through which the weft shuttle 
is passed from one side of the loom to the other. Then this rod 
is lowered and the other is raised to make the counter-shed 
which allows the weft to return. The heddle-rods are supported 
by pairs of stones or heddle-jacks. No fewer than seven of the 
latter were found in Kahun, all of them of wood, roughly shaped 
to fit the heddle-rod, four of light weight and the other three of 
heavy, hard wood. One has also been used as a mallet. In 
addition, three small model heddle-jacks of painted wood 
survive, possibly made to amuse children and awaken their 
interest in weaving. 

As previously mentioned, some scholars have interpreted the 
type of loom in the Beni Hasan tomb paintings as the vertical 
loom, for instance, where it appears upright in the tomb of 
Khnumhotep, with a woman squatting at either side of it. But 
clear indication of heddle-rods and jacks points to the fact that 
we are looking at a horizontal loom which is conforming to the 
same rules of perspective as painted tables or ponds. The most 
accurate picture of this loom is given by the tomb-models of 
weavers' workshops, where it is on the floor, has heddle-rods and 

Kahun: the textile evidence 237 

jacks and may vary in width from a narrow one with one operator 
to a wider version with two weavers who pass a thread-loaded 
shuttle to either side of the loom, lifting alternate heddle-rods. 
The tomb-model from the Theban tomb of Mekhet-Re of the 12th 
Dynasty (about 1991 BC), now in the Cairo Museum, shows two 
seated female spinners and three standing, the latter drawing 
unspun thread from pots on the ground. Other women are warping 
and, at the back right, is a ground loom with heddle-rods, jacks 
and two women weavers squatting at the cloth beam. This loom 
has woven cloth on it while at another loom a man is adjusting 
the warp. 

This equipment, virtually unchanged, wove all the known types 
of cloth down to the end of the Middle Kingdom, from very fine, 
almost transparent fabric to medium-fine for clothing, household 
purposes and for mummy wrappings, and coarse sackcloth often 
found re-cycled as packing for mummies. 

Before weaving can begin, the warp threads must be arranged 
on the loom. As tomb-models show us, warping for the ground 
loom was done by winding spun threads round three or four stakes 
driven into the ground, or into a wall, in a figure-of-eight, as many 
times as warps were required. They were transferred direct to the 
loom and stretched taut between the two beams, with two thin 
cross-pieces or lease-rods inserted across weftways, to help hold 
them in place. During warping the warps were separated into two 
sets on the heddle-rods, as already described. 

The loom was now ready for the making of plain weave, for 
which it was well suited, which is one reason for its success for 
so long. The Egyptians seem not to have favoured fancy weaves 
or dyed patterned textiles, possibly because by far the greatest 
demand was for cloth for ritual purposes, and because of their 
obsessional attitude to personal hygiene and linen of the purest 
white. There are, however, some examples of self-patterning, that 
is, variations in texture given by using warp or weft of looser spin 
or different thickness, which appears as stripes or bands in the 
cloth. Pleating has survived from the 11th Dynasty, from Deir-el- 
Bahri, and a Middle Kingdom example of the weft-loop technique, 
which gives a looped pile once thought to be no earlier than the 
Roman period, was found at Qerna. 

Simple plain weave, or plain weave tabby, is ideal for linen 
and is sometimes called 'linen weave'. It is an over-1, under- 
1 weave and doubtless in very early times weft thread was 

238 The investigation 

passed over and under alternate warps with the fingers, or 
with a needle or peg, before the introduction of the shuttle. 
And the other innovation which made weaving quicker and 
gave a more regular surface was the heddle-rod, described on 
page 236. When several rows of weaving were completed, the 
wefts were packed closely together with a wood beater or 
'weaver's sword'. 

Weaving is by no means the end of cloth manufacture, 
however, for after the cloth is cut off the loom it may still be 
greyish-brown in colour and the Egyptians preferred better- 
quality cloth to be almost white. So it would be beaten to 
improve its surface, washed and bleached in the sun, during 
which time it was regularly sprinkled with water. The tomb- 
paintings already mentioned show washing and bleaching being 
carried out by men wearing aprons and working on the bank of 
a river or canal. They wet the cloth, rub it with a detergent like 
natron or potash, pound it on a stone with wooden clubs, rinse 
it in running water, then lay it out to dry and bleach in the hot 
sun. This was professional work, 'Chief Royal Bleacher' being 
an early title. Papyrus Sallier (II. 8, 2) pities the laundryman 
and the bleacher: 

The laundryman launders on the banks of the river, a 
neighbour of the crocodile... When he puts on the apron of 
a woman, then he is in woe... I weep for him spending the 
day under the rod. 

Finally, the cloth surface would be polished with a smooth flat 
stone or something similar of a size and shape to be held 
comfortably in the hand. Petrie describes four 'curious balls of 
leather' and states that they were for 'fulling cloth', but fulling 
is a finishing process for woollen cloth, which mats it and then 
raises the surface, and the four oval leather balls, filled with 
leather cuttings, are more likely to have been polishers for linen. 
Dressing agents, of some kind of sizing or other gelatinous 
substance, may have been added during the finishing, though 
none is documented. 

Evenly-spun and woven linen cloth has been excavated in 
Badarian burials of about 5000 BC, with a thread count of 8 to 
10 warps and 10 to 16 wefts per square centimetre (expressed 
as 8-10x10-16=1 sq. cm), and in Predynastic times finer and 

Kahun: the textile evidence 239 

closer fabric, 18x10=1 sq. cm, was woven. Among the finest is 
cloth from the tomb of the 1st Dynasty king Djer at Abydos, 
with a thread count of 64x48=1 sq. cm, the equivalent of fine 
cambric. Compared to these counts, even the few remaining 
samples of spun linen and cloth from Kahun tell us that its 
weavers made cloth of as good quality, fine to medium-fine, as 
some of their ancestors. 

According to Petrie, Kahun cloth, almost all of which is now 
missing, varied from 'the finest', with a count of '94x54=1 sq. inch' 
(36-38x20-22=1 sq. cm), and 'the coarsest about half that number'. 
This cannot be wholly verified, unfortunately, the surviving scraps 
being medium-fine, 12-20x15-20=1 sq. cm. A single exception is 
a fragment of open-weave linen with a corded, loop-fringe 
selvedge, which has a count of 30x15=1 sq. cm. 

The pictorial evidence at Beni Hasan, and the titles of several 
of the nomarchs, argues a considerable linen industry in that region 
during the 11th and 12th Dynasties. Whether this industry supplied 
the Royal capital at Lisht we do not know, but it seems likely. 

We also know that the labour-force for national building 
projects was paid in kind with housing, food and oil, sandals 
and linen. The weaving at Kahun, its quantity, purpose and the 
manner in which it was produced can only be topics for 
speculation, based on knowledge of weaving in other, similar 
communities. A good deal of spinning was done and, although 
this requires skill, it is not a specialist activity. It would take 
perhaps three spinners to keep two weavers and one loom 
supplied with thread. Weaving is more specialised, and even a 
small loom would take up a room in an average Kahun house, so 
space must have been set aside for it. We have seven heddle- 
jacks, and used in pairs they are evidence for four looms, whereas 
there are scores of spindles and whorls. 

Studies of village communities today — and of Britain before 
the Industrial Revolution — suggest that cloth is often woven by 
specialists in their own homes but on a professional basis, known 
as 'cottage industry'. Their cloth may be sold by them, or through 
middle-men, who buy the cloth or provide thread and pay the 
weavers for their work. One of the oldest Egyptian words for 
weaver is 'b.t, and a similar word for maidservant is bSk.t, implying 
that women habitually wove in the home and, where it was a 
wealthy one, that women servants wove. So we are left with three 
possibilities: that the Kahun workmen were paid in the form of 

240 The investigation 

linen made in a large, state-owned workshop, like those recorded 
at Beni Hasan, that the Kahun weavers wove the cloth which paid 
the workforce, or that they wove only for their own requirements. 

The latter is unlikely, and the evidence of fine and medium 
fine cloth suggests that they wove cloth to sell, as well as keeping 
their families supplied. It is also possible that the preparation of 
linen fibres for spinning, a lengthy and skilled process and a male 
activity, was not carried out by the male inhabitants of the town 
but done by other specialists and the rovings supplied to the 

The other craft requiring linen thread, of which Kahun has 
provided examples, is netting, which reached a high standard. It 
is a looping or knotting technique, worked with a continuous 
thread to make an even, open-work fabric which is ideal in coarser 
form for fishing-nets and for carrying home the catch, for hunting 
wild animals by driving them into nets — activities often carved 
or painted on tomb walls — and in the home, where the Kahun 
pieces come from, as bags and containers to make the carrying of 
large jars easier. Netting is another ancient technique, and the 
earliest specimens are finely and intricately made. 

All the surviving netting reels from Kahun are of wood, carefully 
cut and grooved — one has a short length of thread still in the 
groove. Only one of them is roughly made. A smooth surface is 
important for all textile tools, so that the thread does not catch. 
Netting needles, also known as bobbins or shuttles, were also 
found. These are flat pieces of wood, some of them curved, and 
varying in length from 14 to 28 cm, and tapering to a point at one 
end where there is an eye, Y-shaped, triangular or round. A flat 
wood gauge is necessary, to make sure that the squares or mesh 
will be even, but none of these appear to be in the collections 
and, in any case, a small, flat piece of wood with no distinctive 
markings would be virtually impossible to identify unless 
excavated with other netting tools. 

Having anchored the thread by tying it in a loop to a stationary 
object (fishermen traditionally use a toe for this) a series of either 
knots or loops, depending on the kind of netting under 
construction, is made round the gauge. At the end of a row the 
gauge is removed, and subsequent rows are made through the loops 
of the previous rows, still looping or knotting round the gauge. 
Netting is illustrated in the tomb of Khety at Beni Hasan. 

The netting from Kahun is knotted and made of linen thread, 

Kahun: the textile evidence 241 

tightly twisted. There are three fragmentary bags, two of them 
made with one strand of thread and of 9 cm and 1 cm mesh 
respectively, and one has the top border and a string tie remaining. 
The third bag has a ring at the base, and is strongly made of coarse 
thread doubled, with a close 2 cm mesh. 

What little sewing was found is of high quality, and needles, of 
copper and bronze, are well made. The finest is 1 mm thick, and 
all of them are long by today's standards, from 10 to 15 cm in 
length. A bone needle-case containing a threaded copper needle 
and wood pin or bodkin emphasises the care with which these 
tools were kept by their owners. In addition, there are thirteen 
balls of fine S-spun linen thread, some of it pale brown and blue, 
and each wound on a core of textile waste, ready for sewing. 

Perhaps the strangest find at Kahun is what Petrie describes as 
'a set of tent-pegs' [Illahun, Kahun and Gurob, 1889-90, p. 11), 
with ends of rush-fibre rope still knotted round one of them. Made 
of wood and measuring about 12.5 cm, each one is cut with a 
large, round head and a deep groove for rope. They are not loom- 
pegs, nor are they ordinary, all-purpose pegs, of which several 
were also found in the dwellings of the town. There are five of 
them, hardly a 'set' large enough for pitching a tent, although Petrie 
does imply that they were together when discovered. We cannot 
know on such slender evidence whether the Kahun townsfolk 
had any dealings with tented people, but it remains an intriguing 

A number of other fibres are preserved from Kahun. They are 
all commonly found in Egypt, and all represent techniques which 
must have predated loom-weaving. Since spindle-whorls have 
been found on sites as early as the Palaeolithic in Egypt, the Near 
East and Europe, the use of non-spun fibres must go back to the 
dawn of mankind's history, when primitive societies were 
experimenting with plants which were to hand. Their observation 
of Nature may have prompted them to plait and interlace grasses 
and reeds to provide shelter, containers and clothing. These 
techniques, evolved so far back in the past, can still be seen in 
Egyptian villages today. 

P.E.Newberry published the plant material from Kahun, among 
which was the Nile acacia, common now in villages, where its 
pods are still used for tanning, and the fruits of two palms, the 
date and the Dom, the latter a tall palm valued for its fruit and 
fibre, found on Predynastic sites and the commonest basket fibre 

242 The investigation 

in the Dynastic Period. One of the most interesting finds is a body- 
sling, now in Manchester Museum, made of fourteen fibre cords 
interwoven with narrow linen strips with a thick loop at either 
end, through which rope was attached. This kind of sling is still 
used all over the world for cropping the fruits of tall palm trees 
by small, lithe men or boys who appear to run up the palm trunk 
at great speed. 

Young, green palm branches, being pliable, were the best 
material for interlacing and fibres were obtained by shredding, 
splitting and drying the stems. Five head rings, now in the 
Manchester Museum, and similar to those worn by village women 
nowadays to support the heavy water jars they carry on their heads, 
are made of a palm-fibre core round which is wound tightly Z- 
twisted fibres, one of three cords and the other of two cords, the 
ends skilfully knotted together. At the Petrie Museum there is a 
similar ring made of rush fibre. 

The fibres of wild grasses, rushes, reeds and papyrus, which 
grew in the marshes of the open country beyond the limit of 
cultivation, were put to innumerable uses and have survived in 
numbers at Kahun. These fibres require far less preparation than 
flax. The plant stems were cut with a sickle and reeds and rushes 
were dried and carefully split, while papyrus fibres were a by- 
product of coarse rinds left after the inner pith of the plant had 
been removed to make writing material, and were made into thick 
rope for heavy use, like hauling stones. 

All these fibres were used to make rope, handles, baskets and 
other containers, as well as sandals, boats and sailcloth. 
Ropemaking is shown at Beni Hasan, in the tombs of Amenemhet 
and Khnumhotep, where men stand twisting together by hand 
two cords which are fastened to a post in the ground, to give greater 
leverage. The rope was then beaten with a wood mallet and soaked 
in a vat to increase its strength. 

Rope was also made of flax and palm fibre. Petrie comments 
[Kahun, Gurob and Hawara, p. 28): 'It was usually of two strands, 
but sometimes it was thrice doubled, giving eight strands.' Most 
of this rope is in the Petrie Museum, while plaited linen cords are 
in the Manchester Museum, and both museums have twisted rope 
handles for jars and baskets. Cord or rope also made handles for 
tools, and Petrie describes his first-aid on one specimen, a flint 
knife with binding on the handle: 

Kahun: the textile evidence 243 

made of fibre lashed round with a cord. When found this 
was tender, but by wrapping it in paper I took it home* 
safely, and then toasting it over a stove I dropped melted 
wax on it until it was saturated, thus the binding is now 
unalterable. This suggested that other flint knives may 
have been similarly handled when in use. Such a handle 
would leave no traces on flint after it had dropped away. 
[Illahun, Kahun and Gurob, p. 12) 

In addition, there are unused rush fibres, finely split and twisted 
into hanks or wound into balls on potsherd cores. 

In a home with very little furniture, containers are 
indispensable for storing anything from clothes and grain to 
chickens. They are also needed for carrying agricultural and 
building materials and even act as coffins for the poor. In ancient 
Egypt the most common container for these purposes was the 
basket. Petrie found a rush basket with tools in it in a corner of a 
Kahun house. 

The materials, date-palm (the most common), rush and papyrus, 
were all to hand and baskets were doubtless made by most of the 
population. Both coiling and twining were practised, using the 
fingers. Coiling, which was also used in sandal-making, is one of 
the oldest fibre crafts, preceding weaving and having little affinity 
with it. Beginning with a base made of a bunch of fibres wound 
into a flat coil, the basket is built up by wrapping the fibres spirally 
and fastening each row to the previous one with firmly-sewn 
stitches of the same material, to achieve the shape required, which 
is commonly round with a flat or pointed lid. Twining, where 
single fibres or bunches of them are interlaced with the fingers on 
a square base, does resemble primitive forms of weaving. 
Wrapping, although another form of twining, requires stitching, 
for a wrapping thread passes round the fibre or bundle, over two, 
under one, etc. 

The ancient Egyptians did not decorate these mundane 
articles with dyed fibres, but relied on the natural texture 
and colour of the fibres and the method of manufacture to 
give patterning, while the baskets are usually of pleasing 
shape. Petrie commends a flat, square type, 'most thoughtfully 

*He was living in a tent at the time. 

244 The investigation 

designed, with a wooden bottom bar, rope corners, six fine 
ropes up the sides to distribute the pressure, retained in place 
by a cross rope, and ending in a twisted rope handle, the top 
edge having a fine rope binding' [Kahun, Gurob and Hawara, 
p. 28). 

Allied to basketry is matting, which can also be made by twining, 
but another technique evolved using a mat-loom, which is close 
to weaving proper and is transitional from non-woven fabrics, i.e. 
made with the fingers, to the weaver's loom. It may have been 
discovered during interlacing that the flexible foundation fibres, 
which were probably placed side-by-side on the ground, were 
easier to handle and gave a better tension if they could be kept 
taut, and for this purpose the mat-frame evolved. The form of mat- 
frame used by some Beduin today to make papyrus mats is similar 
to the one shown in the tomb of Khety at Beni Hasan, with the 
warps stretched over the frame and the wefts being threaded by 
hand over and under the warps. No heddle or shed is used. The 
Beduin mat-frame is semi-vertical, while the one at Beni Hasan 
appears to be horizontal and a male weaver is putting in the wefts 
by hand. A wood beam from Kahun, now in the Manchester 
Museum, may be part of a mat-loom. Measuring 97.5 cm long, 8 
cm wide and 3 cm deep, it has 28 holes along its length, 4 cm 
apart. Petrie remarks on the similarity between the matting of 
Kahun and the modern hasira, but he confuses the mat-loom and 
the true loom by referring to shuttle and beater. Pieces of this 
serviceable matting in the Petrie Museum are made with tufts about 
1 cm apart, and bound together with thick rope edges. In two 
examples this is double. Patterning is made by the direction of 
the fibres. 

Matting was used extensively by rich and poor alike, for walls, 
floors and roofing of their houses. Architecture imitated matting — 
the false door inside Royal tombs of the Old Kingdom was carved 
to look like rolled-up matting, a reminder of the palace, where it 
could be let down as a door or a blind to keep out the sun's heat, 
while coloured mat-patterns are found on ceilings and walls of 
the nobles' tombs at Beni Hasan. Matting also made beds, seats 
and bags and, like baskets, the poor man's shroud or coffin from 
prehistoric times. 

Although not a textile material, leather involves sewing 
techniques and may be discussed here. Since cattle were 
reared on a large scale there was no shortage of leather in 

Kahun: the textile evidence 245 

ancient Egypt, although Petrie found hippopotamus hide at 
Kahun as well. Leather had many uses: for the army it was 
made into shields, quivers and even body armour until the 
New Kingdom. A little-known use was for loin-cloths for 
labourers, and a finer type for religious ritual, of hide skilfully 
slit at regular intervals to produce a kind of mesh when worn. 
Leather strips were also interlaced across beds and made seats 
for chairs and stools, as an alternative to rush. Kahun provides 
examples of rawhide thongs, wound or plaited round the 
handles of tools. But by far the most common leather artefact 
must have been footwear, for the army, the national workforce 
and for the general populace. 

Sandal-making can be seen in tomb-paintings and, once again, 
Beni Hasan gives nearly contemporary evidence of a sandal- 
maker's workshop, in the tomb of Amenemhet, Governor of the 
Oryx nome. He also bore the title 'Overseer of horns, hooves, 
feathers and minerals', and was probably responsible for 
collecting the government tax on leather. Part of the tanning 
process is seen in the famous 18th Dynasty tomb of Rekhmire at 
Thebes. A hide is being taken from a pot containing perhaps 
acacia pods or urine, the chief tanning agents, and hides are being 
cut to sandal-shapes. One man is using a piercer to make a hole 
which will take a thong. The sandal-maker's tools are clearly 
shown, and similar tools survive from Kahun — a bone awl, 
copper piercers, both round and square, one of them having a 
wood handle. 

The leather- workers in the tomb -paintings are professionals. It 
is a skilled process, but it would be impossible to tell whether the 
sandals found at Kahun were made in a government workshop 
and imported into the town as payment in kind for labour on the 
pyramid, or made in the town itself, although no cobbler's shop 
came to light. 

There is, however, an interesting variety of footwear: a heel 
with straps and part of a sole, made up of thick leather layers 
compressed together and fastened with metal tacks, and a wide 
sandal with a well-preserved thong, made for the broad foot and 
splayed toes of the ordinary Egyptian. In contrast, there is a more 
slender and elegant woman's sandal, about 22 cm long, the 
equivalent of an English size 5. And there are sandals of rush, 
made on the same principle as coiled basketry, by stitching 
bundles of rush neatly to each other in rows to build the shape, 

246 The investigation 

and finishing the soles and heels by attaching leather strips to 

More unusual are the sole and part of the upper of a slip-on 
shoe, stained red. It has a leather toe-piece, with the hair turned 
inside, stitched to the sole with a leather thong, and part of a 
corded thong is still attached at the ankle. According to Petrie, 

shoes seem to have been just originating at that period, two 
or three examples are known but all of them have the 
leather sandal strap between the toes and joining to the 
sides of the heel, to retain the sole on the foot, the upper 
leather being stitched on merely as a cover without its 
being intended to hold the shoe on the foot. [Kahun, Gurob 
and Hawara, p. 28) 

In the houses Petrie found doors which had worn down the sockets 
in which they pivoted at the threshold and, in true Egyptian 
fashion, the surface had been raised 'by laying pieces of leather, 
generally old sandals, in the socket'. 

Household cloth and articles of dress have a short life, but are 
often recycled and the absence of woven textiles surviving from 
Kahun is curious. 

The manner in which the 'new town' was abandoned has not 
been explained. Petrie thought it was inhabited for about a century, 
but it seems to have been deserted by its inhabitants in such a 
hurry that some kind of disaster may have occurred, though this 
could hardly be plague, which has been suggested, since no bodies 
except the baby-burials were found. Whatever happened, the 
paucity of cloth is unusual — if sandals and precious needles were 
left behind, why not unwanted clothes? 

There were textiles, however, according to Petrie's account. 
In his Journal (XXV, 14-20 April 1889) he describes 'bits of boxes, 
string, thread, sandals and even such unconsidered trifles* as 
linen, of course, come in daily'. And in Kahun, Gurob and 
Hawara, p. 12, he mentions 'Miss Bradbury has again taken in 
hand the textiles and, for the larger and more important pieces, 
has obtained the careful help of Mr. Wardle and of Messrs. 
Pullar.'t The string, thread and sandals survive, but of the linen 

* A Shakespearean quotation. Autolycus, in A Winter's Tale, describes himself as 'a 

snatcher-up of unconsidered trifles'. 

t Pullars of Perth, a renowned dry-cleaning company. 

Kahun: the textile evidence 247 

cloth there is no trace. However, thanks to Petrie's records and 
his vivid account, a clear picture of textile activity at Kahun 

The professional weaver's status in ancient Egypt was not high, 
and his lot was an unenviable one, according to the New Kingdom 
writer of the Satire on Trades (Papyrus Sallier, II, 7, 2-4). 

The weaver in the workshop he is worse than a woman. 
His knees are drawn up to his belly, he cannot breathe the 
open air. If he cuts short the day's weaving he is beaten 
with fifty thongs. He must give food to the doorkeeper that 
he lets him see the light of day. 

Middle Kingdom workshop weavers were women, but their 
working conditions may have been much the same, and weaving 
at home must have been preferable. Petrie wrote of the Kahun 
townsfolk. 'The tomb-paintings of Beni Hasan show us the 
people themselves as they lived....' [Kahun, Gurob and Hawara, 
p. 21), and the picture he has left us is of the wives and children, 
and perhaps the elderly, spinning, weaving, making nets, 
baskets and other necessities at home, while the menfolk were 
working on the pyramid, producing yarn and cloth for the 
family and possibly enough to earn the 12th Dynasty equivalent 
of pin-money as well. 


It has been shown that the site of Kahun and its related artefacts 
are of considerable significance to our understanding both of the 
way in which a town of the Middle Kingdom functioned in ancient 
Egypt and also, of the technologies of the period which were 
developed to meet the needs of the society Also, the wealth of 
articles of everyday use found at this one excavated site themselves 
ensure that Kahun is regarded as a town of outstanding interest to 
archaeologists and historians. 

The place had an additional importance, as a residence for the 
workmen engaged on the construction of a royal tomb. As such, it 
can be compared with the other, rare examples of royal necropolis 
towns, and can illustrate something of the organisation, skills and 
life patterns of these important ancient craftsmen. 

However, perhaps some of the most fascinating questions that 
can be asked about the site and its inhabitants centre around the 
assumption that there was a presence - perhaps of a significant 
size - of foreign residents in the town. 

Even if the foreign pottery products are regarded simply as trade 
imports to the area, there is substantial additional evidence to 
indicate that foreigners lived at Kahun. The legal papyri, the 
temple lists and other inscriptions confirm the presence of 
Asiatics' in the town, and the occurrence of non-Egyptian weights 
and measures, as well as individual finds such as the torque, serve 
to support this theory, which was originally advanced by Petrie. 
Even in the royal jewellery of the Middle Kingdom, there are 
indications of foreign influence, but it is uncertain whether these 
pieces were actually produced by foreign craftsmen resident in 


Conclusion 249 

Egypt, or by Egyptian jewellers who gained their inspiration from 
styles and forms which were then fashionable in other areas of 
the ancient world. 

The original homeland, or indeed countries, from which 
Kahun's foreign population came are also the subject of debate. 
The Aegean goods found here may simply have entered Egypt 
through trade, or they may have been brought to the area by 
immigrants from the Levant. However, the possibility cannot be 
ruled out that Aegean workers themselves came to Kahun and 
brought these goods directly with them. When Petrie excavated 
Kahun, the major excavations on Crete had not then been started, 
but later, the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans [Knossos, I (London, 
1921), p. 266) was able to include, in his report on the excavation 
of King Minos' Palace at Knossos on Crete, that he was of the 
opinion that a group of Minoan workmen may indeed have been 
employed on the construction of Sesostris IPs pyramid at Lahun. 
The excavations showed that, at this time, Crete was experiencing 
a period of stability and prosperity, and quantities of Minoan 
pottery began to be exported to Cyprus, Syria and Egypt. Although 
the direct evidence for Cretans residing in Egypt during the Middle 
Kingdom is at present lacking, it cannot be ruled out that some 
Aegean traders and craftsmen had already found their way to some 
Egyptian towns, where they took up temporary or permanent 

The existence at Kahun of immigrants from the regions of 
Syria and Palestine is more demonstrable, for the term 'Asiatic' 
used in the Kahun papyri probably refers to people from these 
areas. They may have come from the immediate vicinity of the 
coastal towns, such as Byblos or from further afield, but at least 
some of them were probably directly involved in the 
construction of the Lahun pyramid and were perhaps also 
engaged in specialised crafts associated with funerary goods. 
It has also been suggested that Cyprus was one of the homelands 
from which a group of immigrants may have come to Kahun; 
these people were perhaps partly responsible for the 
developments in metalworking in the area. 

The workforce at the town may therefore have included various 
elements from a number of countries, as well as native-born 
Egyptians. The products found at Kahun certainly indicate a 
variety of sources, although it must never be forgotten that at least 
some of these items may have entered the area through trade. 

250 Conclusion 

Others were produced locally, although they imitated foreign 
styles, and whether these were made by the immigrant residents 
of the town, or by Egyptian craftsmen who were copying the 
imported traded goods, it is impossible to determine. 

The reasons which brought the foreigners to Kahun may have 
been as various as their possible places of origin. Some, especially 
the Aegean islanders, may have come as traders who then settled 
at Kahun, or they may have been itinerant artisans who brought 
their specialised skills. The same maybe true of the other groups, 
although some, especially those referred to as 'Asiatics', may have 
been brought into Egypt as prisoners-of-war during the troubled 
years of the First Intermediate Period and even the early part of 
the 12th Dynasty. 

Acceptance of the 'foreigners' in the town seems to have been 
well established. They may have preserved some of their own 
religious and other customs, but they were sufficiently well 
integrated to be included, albeit in specialised roles, in the rituals 
of the Egyptian temple at Kahun. Even the evidence of the intra- 
mural burial customs, when baby burials were interred within 
the town, cannot be clearly explained. Such burials were also 
found at Deir el-Medina many years later, and may indeed indicate 
the presence of a foreign custom, although insufficient evidence 
exists from other Egyptian settlement sites to clarify this. Again, 
at Lahun, Petrie discovered a baby burial at the pyramid site, which 
he believed to have been part of the foundation ceremony. This 
again seems to indicate a non-Egyptian religious practice, and may 
have been introduced here by some of the immigrant workers. 

Nevertheless, in general, Kahun seems to have accommodated 
its different elements with no great difficulty, and the excavated 
material presents a picture of a society which, while perhaps 
combining native and immigrant features, nevertheless inhabited 
an essentially Egyptian town. 

Future work will reveal further details of this unique place and 
its inhabitants, and it is appropriate that the artefacts from this 
site, where Petrie was able to develop and perfect some of his 
earliest archaeological and scientific techniques, should 
themselves become the subject of an intensive and 
multidisciplinary study. 



ASAE — Annales du Service des 

Antiquites de VEgypte. 

BIFAO —Bulletin de I'lnstitut 

frangais dArcheologie orientate. 

CAH — Cambridge Ancient 


JARCE — Journal of the American 

Research Center in Egypt. 

JEA — Journal of Egyptian 


JNES — Journal of Near Eastern 


Chapter 1: The 
Geography and 
Historical Background 

Aldred, C, Middle Kingdom Art in 

Ancient Egypt, 2300-1590 E.C. 

(London, 1950). 
Gardiner, A.H., Egypt of the 

Pharaohs (Oxford, 1974). 
Hayes, W.C., The Middle Kingdom 

in Egypt', in CAH (rev. ed.), vol. 

1, chap, xx (Cambridge, 1964). 


Petrie, W.M.F., Kahun, Gurob and 

Hawara (London, 1890). 
Petrie, W.M.F., Illahun, Kahun and 

Gurob (London, 1891). 
Petrie, W.M.F., Ten Years' Digging in 

Egypt, 1881-91 (London, 1892). 
Petrie, W.M.F., Journals, October 

1888-January 1890 (at University 

College London). 
Petrie, W.M.F., Methods and Aims 

(London, 1917). 
Petrie, W.M.F, Seventy Years in 

Archaeology (London, 1931). 

Chapter 2: The Lahun 

Aldred, C, Jewels of the Pharaohs 

(London, 1971). 
Andrews, C.A., Ancient Egyptian 

Jewellery (London, 1990). 
Brunton, O, Lahun I: The Treasure 

(London, 1920). 
Edwards, I.E.S., The Pyramids of 

Egypt (Harmondsworth, 1993). 
Gardiner, A.H., 'The Name of Lake 

Moeris', in;EA, 29 (1943), pp. 37- 

Gardiner, A.H., 'The Harem at 

Miwer', in JNES, 12 (1953), pp. 



252 Bibliography 

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Herodotus, The Histories, Book II 
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Petrie, W.M.F., G.Brunton, and M.A. 
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Simpson, W.K., 'The Residence of 
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Winlock, H.E., The Treasure of 
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Chapter 3: The Towns of 
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Bierbrier, M., The Tomb-Builders of 
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Aamu, 243 

Abydos, 31, 35, 38, 57, 135, 178, 180, 

228, 238 
Abyssinia, 151 

Admonitions of a Prophet', 26, 38 
Aegean, 31, 175, 176, 177, 180, 183, 

185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 192, 215, 

249, 250 
Africa, 16, 160, 166, 168 
Africanus, 22 
Agriculture, 93, 143, 146, 147, 148, 

169, 170, 174, 230 
Ahmes-Nefertari, 63, 82 
Ahnas, 89, 103 

Akhenaten, 59, 60, 62, 64, 83, 89, 96 
Alexander the Great, 20 
Alphabet, 186, 189, 199 
Amarna, 54, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 65, 

81, 90, 91 
Amenemhet, 232 
Amen-Re, 33, 60, 62, 63, 82 
Amenemmes I, 27, 28, 29, 30, 36, 38, 

44, 45, 46, 178, 191, 196 
Amenemmes II, 30, 31, 45, 46, 51, 

185, 196 
Amenemmes III, 30, 32, 37, 41, 45, 

46, 51, 52, 114, 116, 182, 196 
Amenemmes IV, 32, 45, 115 
Amenophis I, 63, 70, 82, 84, 124, 197 
Amenophis II, 197 

Amenophis III, 94, 113, 115, 197, 200 
Amenophis IV, 60, 197 
Amosis I, 45, 63 
Amratian Period, 208 
Am rem.f, Lists, 117 
Amt-pr, 115 

Amun, 33, 35, 37, 80, 82, 84, 85, 87 
Analysis: honey 156; metal, 9, 145, 

215-25; pottery, 9, 178, 207-14; 

wood, 205 
Anat, 83 
Anatolia, 181 
Animal husbandry, 146 
Anubis, 83 
Anukit, 83 
Apepi, 196 
Aput, 116 
Arabic, 23 

Archaic Period, 22, 146, 221 
Army, 71, 117, 190, 192, 193, 245 
Art, 87, 181, 182, 183 
Art, schools of, 36, 37 
Artists sketches, 64 
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 5, 200 
Asia, 82, 166, 168, 175, 177, 183, 

185, 186, 188, 189, 192 
Asia Minor, 62, 173, 186 
Asiatic, 26, 28, 30, 31, 96, 119, 120, 

135, 190, 191, 192, 193, 198, 248, 

249, 250 
Assiut, 20, 28 
Astarte, 83 
Aswan, 13, 14, 16 
Aten, 33, 60, 62, 83 
Atomic absorption, 210, 211 

Baby burials, 48, 66, 112, 137, 138, 

152, 200, 250 
Back-strap loom, 235 
Badakhshan, 54 
Badarian Period, 21, 207-9, 236, 238 


Index 257 

Bahr el-Ghazel, 13 

Bahr el-Jebel, 13 

Bahi Yusef, 1, 20, 40, 42, 45, 89 

Ballas, 135 

BaqtIII, 233, 234 

Basketry, 95, 148, 174, 226, 228, 242, 

Bead-making, 54, 96 
Beduin, 25, 32, 191, 244 
Beekeeping, 155, 156, 157 
Beni Hasan, 28, 37, 157, 180, 232-4, 

236, 239-41, 242, 244, 245, 247 
Berlin, 86, 87, 156 
Bersheh, 37, 192 
Bes, 62, 66, 81, 82, 83, 136, 137 
Bible, 224 
Birket Qarun, 1, 40 
Blackman, W.S., 42, 155, 174 
Bleaching, 238 
Blindness, 85 
Body-sling, 242 
Bohemia, 211 
'Book of the Dead', 34 
BoydDawkins, W., 6 
Bread, 148 
Britain, 239 

British Museum, 5, 85, 179, 199 
British School of Archaeology in 

Egypt, 140 
Bronze Age, 215, 221 
Brunton, G., 101 
Brussels, 87 
Bruyere, B., 86, 90 
Bubastis, 27 
Button seals, 177 
Byblos, 30, 31, 135, 175, 181, 184, 

185, 193, 249 

C-group, 30 

Cairo, 1, 14, 16, 47, 51, 52, 87, 88, 

229, 237 
Cambridge, 87, 207 
Carpentry, 93, 166, 167 
Castanets, 133, 136, 137 
Caster's shop, 165, 166, 168, 170, 

171, 173, 174, 216 
Cataracts, 13 

Caton-Thompson, G, 229 
Cats and Mice, war of, 88 
Cheops, 24, 43 
Chephren, 24, 43 
Christian, 103 
City-state, 57 

Classical analysis, 210, 211 

Clothes, 226 

Clothing, 158, 246 

Co-regency, 29, 32 

'Coffin Texts', 34 

Coins, 201 

Copper mining, 136 

Cording, 226-8 

Corvee-duty, 58, 59 

Cosmetics, 95, 96, 152, 153, 158, 160, 

161, 209 
Cotton, 228 
Creation myths, 33 
Crete, 31, 175, 176, 177, 181, 182, 

183, 184, 186, 193, 249 
Crocodilopolis, 35, 40, 41, 121 
Cusae, 28 

Cylinder seals, 153, 184, 196 
Cyprus, 170, 181, 183, 189, 209, 224, 

Cyrene, 181 

Dahshur, 24, 45, 46, 51, 52, 54, 138, 
155, 184 

Daily temple ritual, 131, 133 

Damietta, 14 

Dancer, 132, 136, 137, 190 

Dancing, 136 

Darius, 208 

Day of Judgement, 35 

Debono, 229 

Decentralisation, 25, 33, 232 

De Morgan, J., 45, 51 

Deir el-Bahri, 27, 82, 237 

Deir el-Medina, 59, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 
66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 
76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 
85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 92, 115, 116, 
117, 119, 125, 133, 134, 136, 137, 
141, 143, 154, 250 

Delta, 14, 16, 21, 28, 34, 36, 64, 116, 
125, 133, 141, 143, 177, 181, 190, 

Democratisation of religious practice, 
34, 36, 43 

Dental condition, 148 

Deshret, 19 

Diet, 145, 148 

Diodorus, 41, 45 

Diospolis, 197 

Diospolis Parva, 208 

Distaff, 233 

Dja, 35 

258 Index 

Djer, 237 

Drama: Coronation, 38; Memphite, 38 

Dyeing, 243 

Dynasties, 22 

Early Bronze Age, 184, 215 
Early Bronze Period, 184 
Early Minoan Period, 176, 177 
Eastern Desert, 30, 53, 54, 133, 170 
Edfu, 57 

Edwards, Amelia B., 4, 5 
Egyptian Blue, 210, 211 
Egypt: Exploration Fund, 5, 60; 

Exploration Society, 61 
Egyptian: Empire, 33, 62, 82; 

Faience, 54 
Electrum, 53 
Elephantine, 28, 83, 212 
Elliot Smith, G., 6 
Engelbach, R., 178, 179 
Esna, 240 
Ethiopia, 82 

Europe, 168, 228, 232, 241 
Evans, Sir Arthur, 176, 182, 249 
Excavation, methods of, 111, 112 
Execration Texts, 31 

Fabric measurement, 209 

Faience, 55, 95, 96, 170 

Fakus, 187 

Faras, 213 

Fayoum, land reclamation, 39, 41, 45 

Finishing of cloth, 226 

Fire-stick, 142, 152, 153, 166 

First Intermediate Period, 22, 25, 33, 

34, 36, 37, 44, 89, 177, 184, 185, 

191, 209, 232, 250 
Fishing, 41, 42, 90, 93, 95, 142, 145, 

Flax, 242 

Flax preparation, 226, 233 
Flax growing, 230-3 
Flint working, 168, 169, 170 
Footwear, 158 

Foreign craftsmen, 54, 62, 81, 83, 86 
Fortess, 30, 199 
Foundation deposit, 48, 103, 131, 

153, 155, 189, 221, 225, 250 
Fowl, 145, 155 
Fowling, 142, 143, 144 
Furnace, 216-18, 225 

Furniture, 67, 92, 93, 97, 150, 151, 
152, 166, 167 

Garstang, ]., 180 

Geometry, 172 

Gerzean Period, 208 

Ghalioungui, P., 130 

Giza, 24, 43, 59, 169 

Gladstone, J., 170 

Glass, 54, 55, 95, 96, 162 

God, 79, 80, 88, 89, 131, 132, 134, 

141, 156, 162, 184 
God: Asiatic, 83; household, 80, 81, 

84, 85; local, 80, 81; state, 80, 81, 

Gold, 14, 30, 53, 54, 55, 93, 170, 183 
Goldsmiths, 54 

Graeco-Roman Period, 20, 22, 148 
Greece, 176, 183, 184, 186, 187, 208, 

211, 224 
Greek, 22, 41, 42, 86, 129, 144, 179, 

187, 189, 208, 210 
Griffith, F.LL, 115, 121, 123, 126 
Gunn, B., 84, 86 
Gurob, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 42, 54, 89, 90, 91, 

92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 111, 115, 

154, 192, 200, 201, 224, 226; 

cemeteries, 97; foreigners, 42, 90, 

96, 98, 192 

H3w-nbwt, 177 

Hapy, 18 

Haraga, 178, 179, 181, 193 

Harem, 42, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 106, 

107, 108 
Harpocrates, 184 
Hathor, 52, 54, 82, 132, 133, 135, 

136, 141, 161 
Hatshepsut, 82 
Hawara, 2, 37, 41, 45, 46, 51, 114, 

117, 167, 182, 226 
Haworth, J., 4, 5, 7, 89, 111, 179, 199 
Heddle-jacks, 239 
Heddlerod, 237 
Heliopolis, 33, 35, 37, 121 
Heracleopolis, 31, 33, 103, 121, 132 
Hermonthis, 33 
Hermopolis, 31, 33 
Herodotus, 41, 45, 144, 150, 191, 232 
Hetep-Sesostris, 3, 101, 121 
Hippocrates, 129 
Hoffman, M., 229 

Index 259 

Horizontal loom, 236, 237 
Homs, 31 
Honey, 133, 155-7 
Horemheb, 64, 65, 73 
Horticulture, 146, 149, 150 
Horus, 34, 83, 122, 124 
Household goods, 62 
Hughes-Hughes, W.O., 91, 111 
Hunting, 41, 42, 93, 95, 142-5, 229, 

Hyksos, 62, 64, 71, 189, 196-9, 228 

Ikhernofret, 38 

Imhotep, 24 

Incense, 32 

Industrial Revolution, 238 

Inglesent, H., 155-7 

Instruction of King Amenemhet, 29, 

International Mummy Data Bank, 8 
Inundation, 17 
Ipuwer, 26 
Irrigation, 3, 17, 18, 26, 28, 45, 58, 

114, 149 
Isis, 34, 80, 82, 83 
Islands in the Midst of the Sea, 183 
Italy, 187 
It-towy, 29, 32, 35, 45, 46, 197 

Jewellery, 50, 51, 53, 54, 55, 95, 96, 
135, 136, 142, 161, 162, 185, 193, 
200, 249 

Josephus, 22 

Jubilee Festival, 53 

Kahun: burial customs, 137-41, 193, 
200; craftsmen, 193; desertion, 
194-6, 199-201, 246; education, 
120, 121; foreigners, 9, 31, 98, 
119, 120, 131, 134, 136-8, 140, 
141, 157, 173, 175, 186-91, 193, 
219, 248-50; Group 9, 135, 223; 
gynaecological, 38; 
gynaecological papyrus, 38; 
houses, 106-11, 118, 130, 131, 
150-2; Hymn to Sesostris III, 38; 
mathematical papyri, 38; papyri, 
114-20, 122; personal 
possessions, 158, 160; project, 9, 
205, 213, 214, 250; strikes, 74; 
temple, 48; temple journals, 38; 
veterinary papyrus, 38 

Kamares Ware, 31, 176-81 

Kaplan, M., 212 

Karnak, 33, 37, 63, 82, 84, 107 

Katna, 31 

Keftiu, 183 

Kemet, 18 

Kemp, B.J., 178-80, 183, 199 

Kenbet, 77, 84 

Kennard, M., 5, 6, 111 

Key, 151 

Khartoum, 13 

Khasekhemre Neferhotep I, 196 

Khatanah, 187 

Khety, 233-4, 240, 244 

Khnum, 83 

Khnumhotep, 242 

Khnumhotep II, 233, 236 

Khonsu, 33, 74 

Khyan, 182 

King, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 
30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36, 37, 41, 42, 
43, 44, 48, 49, 50, 53, 57, 58, 60, 
63, 69, 76, 80, 82, 88, 90, 94-6, 
101, 103, 104, 106, 114, 131, 150, 
156, 162, 182, 184, 195-8, 201, 
249; deified, 82, 84 

King Lists, 22 

Kohl, 161 

Knossos, 174, 181, 182, 249 

Labyrinth, 37, 45, 182 

Lahun, 1, 2, 6, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 46, 
47, 49, 50, 55, 90, 101, 103-6, 111, 
112, 117, 118, 131, 136, 138-40, 
155, 162, 166, 168, 174, 178, 184, 
195-8, 201, 226, 233, 249, 250 

Lake Moeris, 41, 42, 144 

Lake Tana, 13 

Lake of Mi-wer, 42 

Late Minoan Period, 176, 177, 182 

Late Period, 22 

Lancashire, 164 

Law, 68, 78, 114, 116, 117-20, 133, 

Law code, 119 

Law-court, 68, 69, 70, 88 

Leather, 245-6 

Lebanon, 175 

Letters, 64, 121 

Letters, schoolboy, 120, 121 

Levant, 211, 212, 249 

Libya, 20, 29, 40, 64, 78, 175, 187 

Libyans, 71, 90 

260 Index 

Linen, 158, 228, 231, 233, 237, 238- 

40, 246 
Lipari Islands, 176 
Lisht, 29, 45, 46, 178, 188, 193, 237 
Literature, 28, 29, 33, 37, 38, 77, 97, 

115, 120-2, 142, 157, 190, 191, 

Liverpool, 219 
London, 87, 88, 226 
Loom, 237, 239, 241 
Louvre Museum, 191 
Lower Egypt, 14, 16, 32, 143, 241 
Lucas, A., 156 

Ma c at, 78 

Magic, 31, 34, 35, 53, 137, 162, 163 
Maket, tomb of, 108, 139, 200 
Mallet, 49, 147, 167, 236, 242 
Manchester, 89, 213, 214, 219, 242, 

Manchester Egyptian Association, 

6, 7 
Manchester Mummy Project, 8, 205 
Manchester Museum, 4, 6, 7, 8, 95, 

135, 137, 151, 155, 156, 179, 205, 

219, 226, 231, 242, 244 
Manetho, 21, 22, 197 
Mask, 13, 137 
Mathematics, 172 
Matting, 226, 228, 244 
Mazghuna, 45 
Measures, 172, 173, 186, 188, 215, 

219, 248 
Medicine, 115, 123-30, 156 
Medinet el-Fayoum, 41 
MedinetHabu, 71, 150 
Medinet el-Ma c adi, 35, 37 
Mediterranean, 13, 14, 16, 20, 54, 

160, 184, 188, 189, 209 
Medjay, 71 
Medum, 24 
Megiddo, 31, 192 
Memphis, 14, 25, 29, 36, 40, 55, 57, 

60, 181, 197 
Menes, 21, 22, 56 
Mentuhotep, 33, 44 
Merenptah, 89, 90 
Meir, 192 
Merit, 51, 52 
Mertetseger, 82, 87 
Merrillees, R.S., 178 
Meshkent, 83 

Mesopotamia, 31, 57, 135, 137, 172, 

173, 185, 240 
Metal working, 55, 93, 165, 166, 168, 

170, 172, 182, 185 
Mi-wer, 42, 89, 90 
Middle Bronze Age, 135, 212 
Middle Bronze Period, 184 
Middle East, 232, 235 
Middle Egypt, 32, 37 
Middle Egyptian (language), 38 
Middle Kingdom, 22, 24, 27, 30, 31, 

33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 42, 43, 54, 

55, 63, 71, 82, 86, 93, 109, 113-15, 

121, 122, 135, 139, 140, 142, 162, 

167, 177, 178, 180-93, 198, 200, 

209, 215, 228, 231, 233, 235, 237, 

247, 248 
Middle Minoan Period, 176, 177, 

181-3, 185 
Min, 33 
Mining, 192 

Mining, turquoise, 32, 54 
Minoan, 175, 176, 178, 180-5, 193, 

249; pottery, 177-81, 186-8, 193, 

Minos, 182, 249 
Mirror, 52, 96, 97, 135, 136, 161 
Monotheism, 33, 60, 62 
Montet Jar, 184, 185 
Montu, 33 
Mortuary cult, 1 
Mostagedda, 135 
Mud-brick, 3, 45, 56, 57, 61, 63, 65, 

66, 76, 104, 109, 118, 150, 151, 

170, 174 
Mummies, 35, 43, 44, 51, 140, 179, 

225, 228, 237 
Murray, Margaret, 8 
Mut, 33 
Mycenae, 209 

Mycenaean, 176, 183, 187, 211 
Mycerinus, 24, 43 
Mystery Play, 38 
Myth, of Osiris, 34 

Nagada, 208 

Nagada 1 Period, 21, 209 

Nagada 2 Period 21, 209 

Naville, H., 187 

Near East, 21, 137, 150, 172, 184, 

198, 230, 232 
Neferhotep, 162 
Neferty, 27, 28, 191 

Index 261 

Negev Desert, 217 

Neith, 125 

Neolithic Period, 21, 146, 175 

Netting, 144, 145, 226, 233, 240-1, 

Neutron activation analysis, 210, 
212-14, 219, 221 

New Kingdom, 22, 27, 33, 34, 42, 45, 
54, 57, 59, 62, 63, 71, 77, 82, 83, 
85, 90, 91, 113, 156, 170, 182-4, 
191, 192, 197, 199, 200, 209, 210, 
221, 231, 245, 246 

Newberry, RE. , 241 

New York, 47, 51, 87, 189 

Nile, 1, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 24, 
26, 28, 40, 41, 42, 43, 56, 60, 63, 
89, 92, 132, 142, 143, 145, 163, 
178, 181, 210-14, 228, 229, 241 

Niuserre, 156, 207 

Noll, 213 

Nomarchs, 25, 29, 32, 34, 232, 239 

Nomes, 28, 47, 56 

North Africa, 172, 181 

Nubia, 14, 16, 29, 30, 53, 64, 71, 199, 

Obelisk, 37 

Ogdoad, 33 

Old Kingdom, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 
28, 29, 30, 33, 34, 36, 38, 40, 43, 
44, 46, 54, 57, 58, 59, 63, 71, 79, 
82, 125, 143, 155, 160, 169, 176, 
177, 184, 185, 209, 221 

Omari, 228 

Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, 44 

Opium, 209 

Oracle, 70, 84 

Osiris, 18, 20, 33, 34, 35, 38, 80, 82, 

Osiris, Festival of, 35, 38 

Osorkon I, 201 

Ostraca, 38, 64, 86-8, 120 

Paleolithic, 228 
Paleolithic Period, 20, 21 
Palestine, 30, 31, 62, 135, 181, 188, 

191-3, 208, 209, 210, 249 
Pan-grave, 135, 199 
Papyri, 38, 42, 86, 94, 97, 108, 113, 

131-3, 141, 142, 162, 182, 188, 

195, 200, 225, 228, 248 

Papyri: Brooklyn Museum, 124; 
mathematical, 115, 122; medical, 
42, 115, 122-4, 156; Berlin, 123, 
124, 129; Brooklyn, 189, 190; 
Carlsberg, 123, 129; Chester 
Beatty, 123; D'Orbiney, 126; Ebers, 
123-5, 128; Edwin Smith, 123, 
128; Hearst, 124; Kahun, 13-30; 
Leyden, 123; London, 123; 
Ramesseum IV and V, 123, 124, 
129; Satirical, 88 

Papyrus Sallier, 238, 246-7 

Papyrus, veterinary, 115, 122 

Paris, 87 

Peet, T., 228 

Peloponnese, 176, 186 

Pepy I, 184 

Pepyll, 25, 26 

Personal piety, 84, 85 

Pessimistic literature, 38 

Petrie Museum, London, 226, 242 

Petrie, Sir W.F., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 
21, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 59, 67, 89- 
92, 94, 96-8, 103, 104, 106-15, 
130, 131, 134-7, 150, 153-5, 160- 
70, 173, 175, 178, 179, 186, 189, 
192, 196, 197, 199-201, 208, 209, 
213, 216, 219, 223, 224, 226, 229, 
232, 235, 239, 241, 242-7 

Phaistos, 181 

Phoenicia, 189 

Plasterers' floats, 151 

Pleating, 236 

Pliny the Elder, 216 

Plutarch, 34 

Potters' marks, 186, 188, 189, 192, 

Potters' wheel, 207, 209 

Pottery, 9, 31, 47, 62, 92, 95, 106, 
113, 139, 140, 153-8, 174, 176, 
178-83, 186-9, 192-5, 199-201, 
207-14, 219, 248, 249 

Predynastic Period, 20, 21, 25, 33, 55, 
58, 177, 208, 214, 215, 228, 229, 
234, 242 

Priest 1, 3, 25, 44, 79, 80, 81, 84, 88, 
95, 114, 116-20, 131-3 

Prisoners of war, 191 

Prophecy of Neferty, 27, 28, 38, 191 

Ptah, 55, 83, 85, 87 

Ptolemaic, 22, 41, 91 

Ptolemy II Philadelphus, 41 

Punt, 32, 53 

262 Index 

Pyramid, 3, 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 34, 36, 
38, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 
51, 58, 59, 63, 101, 104, 106, 112, 
114, 117, 118, 131, 138, 139, 150, 
155, 162, 167, 172, 178, 180, 187, 
195, 201, 207, 213, 245, 247, 249, 

Pyramid, ramps, 49 

Pyramid, Step, 24, 43 

Pyramid, Temple, 1,2,3 

Pyramid Texts, 34, 82 

Pyramid workmen, 49, 58, 59, 106, 

Qubbet el-Hawa, 178, 181 
Qudshu, 83 

Queen, 25, 48, 63, 78, 132 
Qurna, 71, 74, 237 

Ramesses II, 42, 48, 64, 89, 97, 103 

Ramesses III, 68, 71, 73, 74 

Ramesses IV, 78, 90 

Ramesses V, 90 

Ramesses VI, 78 

Ramesses IX, 78 

Ramesses X, 73 

Ramesses XI, 64, 79 

Ramesseum, 137 

Ras Shamra, 30, 135, 185 

Re c , 19, 20, 25, 33, 34, 35, 43, 80, 87 

Re-birth, 18, 19, 20, 34, 35 

Re-Harakhte, 83 

Re-hone, 90, 178 

Red Land, 21 

Red Sea, 20, 32, 56 

Rekhmire, Tomb of, 150, 156, 183, 

Religion, 80, 122, 131-4, 140, 141, 

163, 186, 190, 193; household, 

134, 135, 137, 141 
Renenutet, 36 
Reshep, 83 
Roman Period, 104, 138, 140, 150, 

155, 201, 234, 237 
Rope-making, 95, 233, 241-4 
Rosetta, 14 
Royal Ontario Museum, 113 

Sandal-making, 226, 245-6 
Satire on Trades, 246 
Seals, 195, 196, 199 
Sais, 125 

Salitis, 198 

Saqqara, 43, 170 

Satit, 83 

Schiaparelli, E., 86 

Schools, 38, 86, 87, 115, 120 

Sebekneferu, 32, 45 

Second Intermediate Period, 22, 45, 

182, 209, 235 
Sekhemkare, 195 
Sekhemre Khutawy, 195 
Semainean Period, 208 
Semitic, 190 
Semna, 30 
Senet, 164, 165 
Senmut, Tomb of, 183 
Sequence dating, 208, 209 
Serabit el-Khadim, 32 
Sesostris I, 29, 30, 37, 38, 46, 185, 

196, 233 
Sesostris II, 1, 2, 3, 30, 41, 43, 45, 46, 

48, 51, 52, 101, 103, 112, 113, 114, 

115, 117, 121, 131, 132, 138, 139, 

162, 168, 178, 180, 181, 187, 189, 

190, 195, 196, 198, 200, 213, 233, 

Sesostris III, 30, 31, 32, 38, 45, 46, 

51, 115 
Sesostris III, hymn to, 122, 133, 134 
Seth, 34, 122 
Sethos I, 74, 82 
Sethos II, 94 
Sewing, 239 
Shaduf, 149 
Shedet, 35, 40 
Sichem, 192 
Silk 227 

Silver, 53, 93, 135, 183, 211, 219, 223 
Sinai, 32, 133, 136, 170, 191 
Singers, 132 
Sinuhe, 29 

'Sinuhe, Story of, 38, 86, 191 
Sit-Hathor-Iunut, 47,50 
Sling, 144, 145 
Sneferu, 27 
Sobek, 35, 36, 40, 83, 92, 133, 140, 

Sokar, 132 

Sopdu, 116, 119, 133, 141 
Somalia, 32 
Sphinx, 24 
Spindle, spindle-whorl, 228, 229, 

232, 234, 235, 239, 241 

Index 263 

Spinning, 42, 94, 158, 226, 231-7, 

238, 239, 247 
Spurrell, F.C.L., 169 
Stevens, J.M., 126 
Stockholm, 87 
Stone, masons and working, 49, 94, 

103, 155, 160, 166-8, 182 
Strabo, 40, 45 

Strikes, 68, 70, 71, 73, 74, 118, 119 
Sudan, 163 
Sunu, 119 
Syria, 29, 30, 31, 62, 86, 166, 170, 

175, 181, 183-6, 188, 190-3, 249 

Taharka, 150 

Tanis, 64 

Tanning, 245 

Tasian Period, 21, 208, 209 

Tauert, 62, 81, 82, 83 

Technology, 9, 21, 22, 23, 24, 55, 94, 

113, 142, 146, 147, 165-8, 205, 
207, 218, 221, 224, 226, 228, 248 

Tell el-' Ajjul, 185 

Tell el-Amarna, see Amarna 

Tell el-Yahudiyeh, 212 

Temple, 22, 24, 32, 37, 38, 55, 56, 58, 
62, 64, 71, 80, 81, 82, 84, 85, 86, 
87, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 97, 101, 103, 

114, 118, 125, 131, 138, 141, 155, 
156, 189, 190, 193, 207, 225, 248, 

Temple: mortuary, 22, 24, 27, 43, 44, 
45, 46, 63, 73, 101, 131-3, 168, 195, 
200, 201; solar, 25; treasure, 54 

Tent-pegs, 241 

Textiles, 94, 95, 97, 226, 228, 232, 
237-40, 244-7 

Thebes, 27, 29, 33, 36, 44, 45, 54, 57, 
59, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65, 71, 79, 80, 
81, 84, 113, 121, 137, 143, 150, 
156, 157, 168, 198, 237, 245 

Thin section, 210, 211 

Third Intermediate Period, 22, 184 

Thoth, 83, 87 

Throwstick, 144 

Tod, Temple of Montu, 31 

Tomb, 19, 22, 23, 25, 26, 35, 36, 37, 
45, 46, 54, 56, 57, 58, 65, 68, 69, 
71, 72, 73, 77, 86, 87, 88, 91, 96, 
97, 135, 138, 139, 142-4, 146, 147, 
156-60, 163, 166, 168, 169, 180, 
181, 183, 192, 193, 231, 232, 233- 
9, 244, 247, 248; Mastaba, 23, 24, 

25, 29, 44, 46, 63, 139, 140; Meket- 
Re, 237; robbery, 50, 51, 63, 64, 79, 
138, 140; robbery papyri, 78; rock- 
cut, 25, 32, 45, 59, 60, 76, 138, 201, 
232; royal, 62, 63, 70, 75, 90; shaft, 
50, 51; Two Brothers, 7 

Tools, 49, 55, 62, 68, 75, 87, 93, 94, 
142, 165, 168, 169, 171, 188, 200, 
215, 219, 224, 225-8, 232, 245; 
agricultural, 146-8, 169, 170, 174; 
carpentry, 166, 167 

Torque, 135, 136, 185, 186, 193, 215, 
222, 223, 248 

Town, 56; planning, 3, 37, 56, 57, 58, 
59, 60, 61, 64, 66, 92, 93, 97, 104, 
106, 107, 108, 109, 248 

Toys and games, 162-5 

Trace elements, 218, 219 

Trade, 181, 183, 185, 188, 189, 191, 
192, 199, 209, 215, 229, 248-50 

Treasure of Dahshur, 51, 52 

Treasure of Lahun, 50, 51, 52, 55, 136 

Treasure of el-Tod, 185, 186 

Tribute, 183 

Turin, 86, 87, 88 

Turkey, 170 

Tutankhamun, 63, 64, 156 

Tuthmosis, I, 63, 82, 197 

Tuthmosis II, 197 

Tuthmosis III, 89, 91, 197 

Two Lands, 16, 21 

Unification, 21, 23, 229 
Universities Research Reactor, 219 
University College London, 4, 5, 95 
Upper Egypt, 14, 16, 21, 27, 28, 31, 

32, 57, 143, 190, 229, 232 
Ur, 135 

Valley Building, 44, 45, 101, 138 

Valley of the Kings, 45, 63, 64, 75 

Valley of the Queens, 63, 78 

Vercoutter, J., 117 

Verma, 213 

Vertical loom, 226, 233, 234, 236 

VonBissing, E, 180 

WadiTimna, 217 
Water-wheel, 149 
Water-works, 201 

Weaving, 42, 94, 158, 226, 228, 232- 
40, 243, 247 

264 Index 

Weights, 172, 173, 186, 188, 189, 

215, 219, 248 
Western Asia, 53, 236 
White Land, 21 
Wilbour, C.E., 189 
Wisdom literature, 38, 86 
Woods, 166, 167 
Wool, 146, 158, 226, 228 
Workmen: rations, 49, 69, 78, 119; 

royal 54; royal gang organisation, 
67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 117, 118, 120, 
248; temple 54; wages, 70, 71, 72, 
73, 174; working conditions, 71, 
72, 75 
Writing, 38, 86, 87, 97, 120, 182, 189 

Zagros Mountains, 170 
Zoer, 24